St. Francis High School in Wheaton is embarking on a $5 million capital construction program that includes a new synthetic turf football field and all-weather track.
The project was launched thanks to a $1 million donation from Ron and Teri Kuhn, high school sweethearts who graduated from St. Francis in the 1960s and expressed a desire to give back.
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Ron Kuhn, who retired in 2005 as president of the West Chicago-based Harry Kuhn Construction company started by his father, said he owes his success in the road-building business in part to the education he received at St. Francis.
"I've always said remember from whence you came," Kuhn said.
Many athletic boosters have been talking about improving the school's football field for three decades, said school President Tom Bednar, but it wasn't until three years ago -- when football games were moved off-campus due to flooding -- that those pleas became more urgent.
"People said, 'Yeah we gotta really start looking at doing things here," Bednar said. "For the past three years (the Kuhns) expressed interest in helping us improve the athletic complex. They told us they wanted to be one of the lead gifts in the campaign."
The Kuhns, St. Charles residents who own the Pillar Rock vineyard in Napa Valley, gave the school $1.7 million in 1999 to fund construction of a cultural arts center. It's helped take the school's performing arts program "to a new level," Bednar said.
In addition to the Kuhns' gift for the football stadium, $1.1 million has been pledged by other donors for the project, leaving a little less than $3 million to be raised by the school's target of May. That's when construction is set to begin, and be complete by August -- in time for the start of the fall sports season, Bednar said.
The new field will be used by the football, soccer and lacrosse teams, as well as physical education classes, band, and cheer and dance teams. It will be surrounded by a six-lane, Olympic-style track suitable for IHSA track and field competitions. New aluminum bleachers with seating for 1,200 fans on the home side will be installed -- compared to the current seating capacity of 500. A 10-by-42-foot press box also is included.
Those projects are considered phase one, at a cost of $3.6 million. The second phase includes construction of a building with a locker room, concessions, restrooms, a ticket office, and a practice area for dance and wrestling teams. Those improvements are expected to cost $1.4 million.
Dubbed the school's "Bring it All Back Home" campaign, the projects are part of an effort to keep student athletic activities on campus.
Kuhn said there had been discussions in the past to build an athletic complex on his old business property on North Avenue.
And Bednar said the school talked to DuPage County Forest Preserve District officials about building on property next to the school.
But eventually it was determined "we needed to do something on our own campus," Bednar said.
The DuPage County stormwater management department is reviewing the school's engineering and design plans, and Bednar is hopeful they will be approved in the next month.
For the Kuhns, the gift to their alma mater is just one more philanthropic endeavor. They also funded construction of the Harry W. Kuhn Outpatient Pavillion at Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital in Wheaton, named in honor of his father who started the construction business in 1950 and died in 2002.
Kuhn, 66, looks back at his time at St. Francis as "a good learning experience."
"(St. Francis) is an asset to Wheaton and DuPage County," he said. "It's good to be able to be a part of that."