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Multi-use athletic complex proposed

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Committee to discuss two options Thursday morning

By BEN CARLSON

 What started out as a motion during last month’s school board meeting to repair the high school’s soccer field has grown into the possibility of creating a new, multi-use athletic complex, complete with a turf field, grandstands and a surrounding track.

A committee formed after the school board tabled a motion to put artificial turf on the high school football field released a survey Monday afternoon that includes two options:

1. To convert the football field to a multi-use turf field with a surrounding track or, 

2. Build the off-site facility with a surrounding track with possible future construction to accommodate “practice or playing space for other sports. The option notes the district already owns land alongside Emma B. Ward Elementary that could be used.

The survey is posted on the district’s website, and includes a variety of questions, including if those taking the survey would support a 4 percent tax increase to support and maintain the district’s athletic facilities. That committee is scheduled to meet again this Thursday at 9 a.m. at the school board offices near Emma B. Ward. 

The committee, which has already met, was formed by Superintendent Sheila Mitchell following last month’s board meeting despite the board voting down a motion to create such a committee, and includes board members Scott Brown and Peggy Peach.

During that meeting, the board was asked to earmark $500,000 from its capital outlay fund toward putting turf on the football field, which would then also be used for soccer and the marching band.

Members of the Bearcat Pride Foundation have spent the past several years trying to raise $1.4 million for the turf field and other improvements, but to date have raised just over $40,000.

Travis Kays, who is part of the foundation, said the hope is that fundraising will be easier if the school board would earmark money toward the project.

“People ask, ‘What’s the school board going to do?’ So, we think they vote to allocate some funds, it will help.”

The capital outlay fund is used for infrastructure projects with funds set aside each year for that purpose. It currently has just under $525,000, which would be nearly drained if the board votes to use $500,000 toward a turf field. Kays said the bulk of the money the foundation has raised came through large donations, but hopes the board’s involvement would spur more donations.

“If people see the board and school district is serious, it should make it easier, but I can’t promise that.”

Superintendent Sheila Mitchell said the capital outlay fund receives about $325,000 each year, and the board recently approved using $34,000 to repave the high school track. She said if the board votes to approve $500,000 for a turf field, the funds could not be used during the fiscal year for other projects. She said future boards could change that based on other needs, meaning the money might not be there long-term.

Mitchell said the district has an array of other infrastructure needs that were already outlined in the district’s most recent facilities plan. They include significant renovations at Saffell Street Elementary School, including upgrades to its HVAC system; along with renovations at the Early Childhood Center, Apex Academy and the bus garage.

Mitchell said the district is statutorily required to update its facilities plan every four years, and a committee will be assembled this summer to look at the district’s needs and make a recommendation to the board.