With approximately 1,450 students encompassing Fremont High School grades 9-12, FHS sits right in the middle of the pack in terms of overall school enrollment.
And while this is the case, renovations and additions occurring over approximately the past two years have provided students with top-notch facilities even the most populated schools in Nebraska’s largest class would appreciate and look to emulate.
While work has been completed all throughout the FHS complex, a few key projects are making a difference in the school experience for all students who walk Fremont High School’s hallways – large track renovations, Al Bahe Gymnasium renovations, Nell McPherson Theater renovations and work in the school’s south corridor.
Completing all these renovations and additions has been a time-consuming and costly endeavor, one that has had numerous moving parts. Collaboration between the FPS District and numerous public partners, private partners, donors and volunteers has been the steady backbone and support system needed to push progress forward.
“I think when you look at the current fiscal realities facing public school districts, you see that without these opportunities for cooperative ventures and community support that we would not be able to do the things that we do, and provide the opportunities for our students that we are able to provide,” Superintendent Mark Shepard said.
In October 2015, conversation began among a group of parents regarding renovations to the Nell McPherson Theater. The theater, which hadn’t sustained substantial renovations in more than 60 years, was in dire need of renovations to its sound system, curtain rigging and lighting.
Under the direction of Dave Mitchell, Bart Qualsett, Terry Sorensen and Brian Essen, the ENCORE! Campaign was brought to life. Through a grassroots campaign, the process of raising approximately $610,000 began in summer 2016.
The three tier project – beginning December 2016 and expected to be fully completed by the March 2018 spring musical – consisted of moving from an analog sound system to a digital sound system, upgrading the theater’s lighting system from incandescent lighting to LED lighting, and finally, upgrading curtain riggings, as well as completing work in the general theater area; predominately located in the school’s south corridor.
Merrill Mitchell, daughter of Kim and Dave Mitchell, said that the overall theater experience has been drastically enhanced.
“It is a completely different world when you are up there now as opposed to being up there two years ago,” the senior student said. “ … It’s also a lot less hot now, one of the trademarks of the stage before was it just being sweltering (under the old lighting).”
Sarah Qualsett, daughter of Bart Qualsett, said the sound change is phenomenal.
“The audience has been blessed so much by the sound difference, the lighting is something you can tell more from the stage and behind the scenes, but multiple people have said ‘We can hear you now!’” Sarah said.
Work has also been completed – and is still in the process of being completed — on the south corridor, which included: bathroom renovation, new carpet being laid, asbestos tile being removed and work starting on a coffee café accessible to students.
FPS staff was heavily involved in the project, Shepard said. Staff members participating in the ENCORE! Campaign include: Russ Koch, Kate Jorgenson, Mark Harman, Doug Bogatz, Scott Jensen, Vernon Golladay, Scott Anderson, Bill Fitzgerald and Scott Moeller.
While fine arts students and viewing audiences needs are being met, so are athletes participating in a variety of sports through renovations to the Fremont Track complex and Al Bahe Gymnasium.
In June 2016, Denison, Iowa-based Midwest Tennis and Track completed a full resurfacing at the Fremont Track Complex after the previous surface eventually wore down from wear and tear. The new, soft surface, should play dividends in terms of keeping athletes healthy moving forward.
Other track-area improvements completed during 2016 include: the painting of support buildings at the complex, an extension on the north high jump pit making it regulation size, renovations to the Tennis Building restrooms, student-installed data cabling allowing for photo finishes at different areas on the track and new gutters and siding installed on the Track Storage Building.
In April 2017, sound upgrades were completed at the facility and an electronic message board was delivered. In addition, in August and September 2017, 75 Blue Spruce trees replaced Austrian Pines planted years ago as a memorial for Larry Sheppard, who served as a Fremont High freshman football coach, as well as track coach.
“He and his assistants always did a great job of getting kids ready and getting them to us high school coaches,” said Gerry Gdowski Sr., who served as head football coach at FHS for at least a decade starting in 1979. “He was very well respected, so that memorial was set up for him.”
The memorial remains in Shepard’s honor, and also serves as a vital wind block along east 16th Street.
Volunteers participating with renovations at the track facility include: Gerry and Rhonda Gdowski, Jason and Angie Decker, Cliff Huss, Dave Sellon, Tad Roffers and Sean and Beth McMahon.
School personnel involved include: Russ Koch, Scott Anderson, Heidi Moran, Brad Dahl, Scott Jensen, Vernon Golladay, Chuck Story, Scott Moeller, Cliff Huss and additional track coaches.
One of the latest renovations taking place at FHS occurred over winter break when the Al Bahe Gymnasium received a substantial face lift. Championship and state runner-up plaques were placed on the north and south walls, new wall mats were installed, walls were painted, the south wall scoreboard was relocated and soon, hall of fame/record board kiosks will be available for people to sort through records.
In addition, new Heartland Athletic Conference logos have been placed along with gymnasium’s west wall. Project funding came through the district and the Fremont High School Athletic Booster Club.
First-year Activities Director Scott Anderson said he feels privileged to oversee such quality facilities.
“It’s great, and the groundwork for all of this was laid before I even got here,” he said. “The wheels were in motion for all these projects, and the track project was pretty much done with the exception of the trees. The plan for the Bahe gym was also in place, so I’ve kind of just sat back and watched as our facilities have gotten better and better.”
Added Shepard: “I think that people have always taken pride in programs and facilities, and now this is really moving it to even the next level. There is a lot of history in the Bahe gym, on the stage and on the track, and those memories last a long time for people. And the upgrades we’ve done will continue to honor and accent that history even more.”
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