It looks like Highland High School will not be getting a new artificial turf field, at least not any time within the near future.
At the next Highland School Board meeting, set for Nov. 27, an updated 5-year facility plan, with estimated construction costs for updating the HHS locker and weight rooms will be presented to the board.
“And turf will not be in that,” said Superintendent Mike Sutton.
During its meeting on Oct. 23, the Highland’s School Board’s turf committee, made up of board members Robert Miller and Aaron Schuster, recommended that the district step back from the turf project. Instead, Miller and Schuster recommended that the district should work other facility improvements into its strategic planning.
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“We have other higher pressing priorities,” Miller said. “It would be something nice to have, and it would be a benefit to the district. But I think it just needs to be incorporated into the overall strategic plan and fit in with everything else when it comes cost-wise.”
The original pitch
A group of Highland area citizens, businesses, coaches, alumni and boosters calling itself “The Highland Community Turf Committee” presented its plan back in May to convert HHS’ football field to artificial turf. Former HHS athletic director, assistant principal and football coach Steve Lanxon, who has served as the coordinator for the committee, presented the idea to the board. The $1 million called for renovating locker rooms and weight training facility in addition to the artifical playing surface.
The idea was pitched where it would not cost the district anything, because the plan was to pay for it all by selling advertising in the stadium.
But the installation of the field had a catch.
The turf warranty would last for eight years and replacement would likely be needed every 10-12 years. That replacement cost would be about $500,000. Lanxon had said that the replacement cost would be paid for by re-upping advertisement pledges. But recently, the certainty that no future costs would be put on the district changed.
On Oct. 3, Miller and Schuster met with the committee backing the turf field project and relayed some of the board’s concerns over the long-term cost for the replacement.
“It was said we are pretty much realizing that there was not anyway that they (the Highland Turf Committee) could secure that kind of funding to prevent that,” Miller said.
But with the turf field aside, the meeting brought up another alternative for the board to mull over.
“They had come up with a Plan B,” Miller said.
After speaking with Apex Physical Theraphy, one of the largest sponsors that promised to back the project through advertising, Lanxon said that if the turf did not go through the sponsor would be interested in helping to build an indoor conditioning facility at the high school.
Lanxon said the facility would open up a lot of opportunities for all of the school’s sport teams. He also said it would help to give more training space to make up for the school’s lack of multiple gymnasiums. But, Lanxon said it is unknown what the facility would cost at this point, or how much Apex would be willing to contribute.
However, Miller said that this indoor facility would be set on the priority list after improving the high school’s locker rooms and weight rooms. During the last board meeting, Director of Buildings & Grounds Jeff Williams said he is working to get a free estimate on a variety of options for these facility improvements. Williams said that these estimates should be ready to accompany the presentation of an updated 5-year facility plan at the board’s meeting next month.
How will they pay?
The members said they would like to seek private funding for these and other projects at the schools similar to what would be done with the turf field.
“I tried to be careful when the turf thing came forward that the perception was not that we were trying to determine whether to spend $1 million on turf because that was never requested for the school district to spend $1 million on turf.” Sutton said. “(It is the) same way with these facilities. We are expecting some support through fund-raising or what ever.”
Sutton also spoke that while these facilities will be in the plan, this spring he said he will be challenging the board to begin “beefing the district” again from an academic standpoint.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to look like it did before the cuts were made, but we are going to be looking in that direction,” Sutton said.
Sutton also said he will be bringing up class sizes and how future projects stacks up against bringing back popular classes like vocational programs and foreign languages, building up core cirriculum and meeting the needs of other school facilities in the campus.
“So there’s a lot of things that we are going to have to put side by side and determine what are we going to spend now and where is it going to be,” Sutton said.
What do the board members think?
During the meeting each board member agreed that getting a turf field was low on the priority list, if it was even on the district’s list at all. However, each board member did say that they appreciate and continues to appreciate community groups coming forward to help fund improvements to the school campus.
Board President Jim Gallatin said that while the turf sounds like a great idea, he thinks the long-term disadvantages such as cost and the effects on injury and health, outweigh the advantages.
“These are uncertain fiscal times for schools, and exposing the district to that kind of long-term fiscal liability would make it even more difficult to provide the upgrades we already know are needed,” Gallatin said. “I believe the schools that have adopted turf will eventually regret the decision and ultimately need to seek tax increases to maintain their facilities.”
Schuster said the project is not a fit at this time, and he agrees the district has other priorities. He said he thinks the community’s turf committee has done an “awesome job” putting the project in motion and he hopes they will continue to work with the district to improve the facilities that need it.
“We have awesome athletic programs and I want to support them in every way possible,” Schuster said.
Miller said he was intrigued by the idea of having a field and the opportunities it created, but the overall short and long term costs did not make installing the field reasonable and responsible to the taxpayers.
“In the big picture we have other more urgent requirements that need funding. We are trying to find funding to expand our trades program at the high school. I think we need to look at adding additional square footage for classroom space at the high school. I'm confident that we will continue to work with Mr. Lanxon to explore ways to improve the athletic facilities at the Troxler campuses. But in a way that is more deliberate and cost effective for Highland taxpayers," Miller said.
Board member David Raymond took a similar position, and said that the district’s priorities should lie outside of improving the high school athletic facilities.
“We’ve lost a lot of good educational programs and I think it would be in our best interest to our students to reinstate those lost educational outcomes versus sports facilities,” Raymond said, refering to the vocational and industrial arts programs.
Zach Lewis said that he does not feel like the turf project is feasible but he would like to pursue other improvements with the help of the community.
“I am in favor of having the community group pursue the option of working to find the donations /sponsorship of a new locker room and/or fitness facility,” Lewis said.
Rene Friedel agreed that the board made the correct decision on setting aside the turn because of its potential burden to the district.
“I believe we made the correct decision in forgoing this idea and looking at projects that are in much greater need,” Friedel said. “We appreciate the community group that organized these proposals and look forward in partnering with them on other endeavors.”
Joe Mott said that the timing of the turf project was not viable and the locker room and weight trainging facilities take priority. But, he said in the future maybe the project could be completed.
“It’s all dependent upon the private funds that can be raised by the involved committees,” Mott said. “The highland community is very supportive of athletic programs within the district and if the private funding and community financial support is there, then I am certain the school board would support it.”
Lanxon said he is fine with putting away the idea of the turf field as long as the locker rooms do get fixed.
“I think all of us coaches felt all along the locker rooms needed to be a priority,” Lanxon said. “So really it was part of our plan anyway to do the locker rooms but now we are going to go about it in more of a direct way.”
It was also mentioned during the meeting that if sometime in the future the district wanted to pursue an artificial turf field, it would be worked into the district’s long term strategic planning. Many people who would still like to see the turf project at the school, according to Lanxon. He said he hopes that it is something that can happen in the future. With that aside, Lanxon said it still looks like the high school might get some facility improvements.