Santa delivered on one of the wishes I made this past Christmas (published in this column back on Dec. 23). I asked for an explanation (that made sense) on why Sunnyside was in need of a new $4 million football stadium and baseball field.
Graciously, several Sunnyside School District administrators visited me last week to provide an explanation. Although a bit hesitant to buy into any plan that means spending $4 million in taxpayers' money for something other than classrooms, I have to admit the concept being proposed isn't all that far-fetched.
Turns out the current seating on the home side of Clem Senn Field is in desperate need of replacing. Because of liability concerns from the school district's insurance carrier, those bleachers are going to have to be replaced...no ifs ands or buts about it. Estimated replacement costs, coupled with redoing the playing surface of the field, itself? A cool $1 million.
The thought by the powers to be is that if that kind of money has to be pumped into the existing football field, why not do it up right. Construct a sparkling new stadium to replace the existing field, which you have to admit is no longer the gem of the Valley.
Because of the uniqueness of the Sunnyside High School track, which features a rarely seen 10-lane, top-of-the-line surface and because it would cost an estimated $800,000 to replace the sub-surface underneath the track, the plan is to build the new football field inside that oval. The playing surface of the gridiron wouldn't be grass, rather a synthetic field turf system that many colleges and high schools are turning to. The life expectancy of this field turf is about 15 years, but more importantly, it was pointed out to me that this synthetic surface is much safer for student-athletes in terms of injuries.
The blueprint of this majestic concept also includes a reconfigured baseball field, designed in such a manner that Sunnyside's outfielders would no longer have the afternoon sun in their eyes. New restroom facilities are also blueprinted into the plan.
Also included in the plan is a walking trail that would circle, twist and turn throughout the entire new sports complex. The trail (or wellness path as it is being referred to), I've been told, would serve not only as a means to promote walking and jogging by the community's residents, but it would help extend the life of the high school track. As it now stands, some community residents use the track to get in their daily walking and jogging regimens, which is all fine and good. The problem, it appears, is that many of these walkers bring their dogs with them. Because animals will be animals, the surface of the track is deteriorating at a much more rapid pace than it should be.
If the plan moves forward, there will be other benefits besides just having new facilities available to local students and the community. The school district will be able to host district and regional playoff games, which means approximately $5,000 in concession profits from each event, money that will be put into the treasuries of the local high school clubs that work the food and pop booth.
The new football stadium, local school district administrators assured me, would also be made available for such community events as outdoor concerts, auto shows, art fairs, farmers markets and even craft shows. Although the local economy really shouldn't be a concern of the school district (considering its job is only to educate our youth), these types of events would draw people into town, and obviously these visitors would be spending some of their recreational dollars in our community.
Where will the school district come up with the $4 million to make this plan a reality? I've been told there are four funding options. Local voters could be asked to approve a 20-year facilities bond, estimated at 50¢ per each thousand dollars a home is valued. Two, the school district, itself, could finance a bond debt of $4 million with a 10-year payback at $400,000 a year. Three, the school district could secure a revenue anticipation note for $4 million, also requiring a payback of $400,000 a year for 10 years. Or, the school district could use part of the $11 million that voters approved in a bond issue a couple of years back to make it all work.
Am I sold on all this?
For me, it's difficult to buy into this plan, what with all the focus the last four or five years that's been put on kids passing the WASL and the support from the community that is required to get them graduation-eligible.
But on the other hand, I have a difficult time arguing against a new sports complex. Logistically, yes, it makes sense. Financially...I don't know, if we have to stick $1 million into our old field any way, maybe the prudent thing is to go all the way and create a first rate complex.
Glad I don't have to make this decision. I guess that's why we elect people from the community to our school board.