AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – School leaders called it a “generationally impactful gift,” but a year later, the status of a $10 million donation to Aurora Public Schools appears up in the air. That money was all earmarked for a new, state-of-the-art athletic complex at Aurora Central High School, a project that’s now stalled.
“Having a facility like this at our school is such an amazing opportunity,” one student said at the time of the announcement.
“Seeing people believe in us is important,” another student said.
The athletic complex upgrade was announced in an April 2021 press conference with school officials, student athletes, and Dwight Richins, a teacher in Idaho and the president of the Worldwide Children’s Opportunity Foundation.
In that press event, officials announced a $10 million donation from the foundation would be used to build indoor and outdoor practice fields, a training facility, a learning center and administrative offices. The funds would also be used to add lighting to the existing softball field, turf field and track.
“The contribution that will fund this amazing facility for men and women’s athletics is seen as an investment in the continued growth and of Aurora Central,” Richins said at the time.
A year later, the district tells CBS4 it’s received no funds from the organization, and the project is on hold. We asked Richins why, and he blamed a handful of factors.
“We’re waiting for, we have architects, legal issues that we’re working through, the finance stuff, COVID,” Richins said. “It’s just been a little slower than we anticipated.”
According to Richins, the foundation has already put money into architecture work and planning. At this point though, WCOF is still waiting on funds to be transferred from its donors, who wish to stay anonymous, he said.
“It’s a gift that we’re giving to the district, and it’s got to be right for us at the right time,” Richins said.
Outside of saying the project is stalled, Aurora Public Schools officials declined to speak with CBS4, but emails obtained through the Colorado Open Records Act show they may not have the answers either.
In the more than seven months following the announcement, district leaders reached out to Richins multiple time for updates on the project, funds, and tax information.
Communication appeared to slow down after an exchange between Richins and Superintendent Rico Munn in December. In a letter to Richins, Munn asked for an update on the timing of the donation and said APS would not commence with any construction until the funds are received.
A day later, Richins replied with a letter of his own, saying he was, “concerned regarding the tonality of the letter,” and didn’t understand having to share a specific timeline with the community.
“If the present situation is unduly frustrating and or untenable for you as we wait diligently and patiently for the process to be completed, we would be sadly but willing to excuse you from the Memorandum of Understanding,” he said in the letter.
In an interview with CBS4, Richins said he was still optimistic about the project.
“It’s going to happen,” he said. “The only way it couldn’t happen is if we get issues coming from Aurora Central, Aurora, the media, those kinds of things could blow it up.”
Why is Richins, a teacher in Idaho, heading a multi-million-dollar project in Aurora? While Richins said his donors have connections in the community, CBS4 learned it may come down to baseball coach Mike Wing.
Now working at ACHS, Wing previously worked in Idaho with Richins, who was superintendent of the district at the time, and in 2019 pitched a similar project that didn’t materialize.
While Richins admits they’re friends, he said Wing is not involved with the project or foundation, though some know him as WCOF’s CEO.
“He was the one telling me what to write and I even did the logo for the foundation,” said one woman who tells CBS4 she developed the foundation’s website.
The associate, who asked to remain anonymous, said Wing approached her to develop the foundation’s website last summer. Much like the district, her money still hasn’t come, and now she’s questioning the project overall.
“They said the IRS is keeping the money,” she said.
“I was super excited about being part of that and then realizing that money maybe never existed or exists and went somewhere else, it makes me really sad because I think a lot of kids were probably excited and waiting for this to happen.”
Wing declined our interview requests for this story and denies formally working with the foundation.
More than a year later, Richins said the promise to students and the community stands.
“To the naysayers, I say wait and see,” he said. “If it was not to be, then nobody’s going to be hurt by it other than their anticipation. It’s going to be awesome.”