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Athletic facility upgrade tabled

Sunnyside School Board directors took no action Thursday night on the issue of how to finance nearly $5 million in athletic facility improvements proposed for the district.

In fact, some of the directors raised concerns about whether a new football stadium was even needed.

"The concern I have heard is that this is a non-essential expense," Board Director Miguel Puente told his fellow directors.

But the need, Superintendent Rick Cole and others told the directors, first, is a matter of liability.

The current bleachers at the football stadium were built in 1972, Cole said. The 30-plus-year-old bleachers are in need of major renovation, or total replacement.

In addition, the current facilities are disjointed, Sunnyside High School Athletic Director Bill Daley told the board.

"We have to reorganize to utilize the space that we have at this point in time," Daley said.

Reorganization and new construction would be done in two phases, Cole told the board.

"We're not talking about doing all this stuff at one time," he said of the project.

The first phase of the proposed project will cost $3.2 million and involve a new football/soccer facility to be placed inside the district's existing 10-lane track.

That site was chosen because it contains a good drainage system, the directors were told. With the drainage system in place, less preparation would be needed to install the new field.

In the first phase of the project, a 4,000-person seating area would be built adjacent to the existing track. The infield of the track would be removed and replaced with FieldTurf-an artificial playing surface used by many major college and professional football teams, including the Seattle Seahawks.

New restrooms, lighting and scoreboards would also be installed at the site.

In order for the district to get seating on both sides of the track, the current high school baseball field would need to be reoriented or relocated all together. Those changes and improvements would come with the second phase of the project.

The high school baseball field could be relocated to the area south of the new football stadium, and the old baseball field would be converted into a high school fastpitch softball field.

The second phase will cost $650,000. Fees, taxes and a contingency budget add another $1 million to the project, bringing it up to $4.85 million.

To answer the question of how the district should finance the project, Cole read a letter from Michael Ormsby of the law firm Preston, Gates and Ellis LLP.

In short, Ormsby told Cole in his letter that the district may not use non-voted bonds for new construction of a permanent football stadium.

"If the district were to construct new bleachers and attach them to existing district facilities, that would probably be acceptable," the letter said. "However, constructing new stand alone bleachers may be problematic."

The letter continued to say that if the district were to purchase prefabricated stands and construct them on site, that would be acceptable. That means if the board chooses to go the non-voted bonds route, the facility will be less permanent.

Permanent restrooms could also not be constructed if this option is used.

The non-voted bond issue would be financed at $4 million with a 10-year, $400,000 a year payback.

If the board members decide to put this issue before the voters, they must decide to do so by their February meeting to get the bond on the ballot for an April election. If the board waits until March, the bond will appear on a May ballot. Election dates would be April 25 or May 16.

The 20-year bond would basically assess 50 cents per every thousand dollars a home is valued.

Board Director Steve Carpenter expressed concern that the district is putting wants ahead of needs.

"I can support the project conceptually," he said, noting that he'd like to see student involvement in the project.

Carpenter also said he thinks the project will be good for the district because it provides facilities for more than just athletic events.

But Carpenter also expressed interest in seeing a comparison of the cost of renovation of the current facility versus the construction of a new one.

It is estimated the renovation of Clem Senn Field will cost $1 million.

The board will discuss the options more at February's meeting.

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