Highland News Leader

Turf plan uprooted, seed planted for other possible stadium renovations

Highland senior Colten Knebel is usually the starting left guard on the offensive line but here he is shown getting to tote the ball as he follows his blocking, including by his twin brother, Dylan Knebel, on the right side of the photo. Colten Knebel rumbled for a 25-yard gain on the play and later on, Dylan Knebel had a 25-yard run of his own.
Highland senior Colten Knebel is usually the starting left guard on the offensive line but here he is shown getting to tote the ball as he follows his blocking, including by his twin brother, Dylan Knebel, on the right side of the photo. Colten Knebel rumbled for a 25-yard gain on the play and later on, Dylan Knebel had a 25-yard run of his own. For the News Leader

An updated five-year facility plan, with estimated construction costs for updating the locker and weight rooms at Highland High School’s football stadium will be presented to the Highland School Board at its Nov. 27 meeting.

However, Superintendent Mike Sutton said, “Turf will not be in that.”

At the Oct. 23, School Board meeting, board members Robert Miller and Aaron Schuster, who had been investigating the idea of installing an artificial turf football field at HHS, recommended that the district step away from the project.

Instead, Miller and Schuster advocated the district put upgrades to existing facilities into its strategic planning.

“We have other higher pressing priorities (than turf),” 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 private citizens, businesses, coaches, alumni and boosters calling itself “The Highland Community Turf Committee” presented its plan to the School Board back in May to convert HHS’ football field to artificial turf. The $1 million project called for renovating locker rooms and weight training facility in addition to the artificial playing surface.

The idea was pitched as being no cost to the district, 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’s warranty was only for eight years and replacement would likely be needed in 10-12 years. Replacement cost would be about $500,000. Steve Lanxon, former HHS football coach and athletic director and point person for the private group pushing the project, said that the replacement cost would be paid for by re-upping advertisement pledges. But board members have been skeptical.

Board says no

Not a single board member was in favor of moving forward with the turf plan.

“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,” said School Board President Jim Gallatin. “I believe the schools that have adopted turf will eventually regret the decision and ultimately need to seek tax increases to maintain their facilities.”

Miller said there were just more pressing needs in the district.

“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.”

Other board members agreed.

“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,” said Board member David Raymond said, referring to the vocational and industrial arts programs.

“I believe we made the correct decision in forgoing this idea and looking at projects that are in much greater need,” said Rene Friedel said. “We appreciate the community group that organized these proposals and look forward in partnering with them on other endeavors.”

Plan B

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.

Lanxon said his group 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 sports teams. He also said it would help to give more training space to make up for the school’s lack of multiple gymnasiums. But, it is unknown what the facility would cost at this point or how much money donations/advertising could be raised.

Laxon said at least one of the large sponsors that promised to back the turf project through advertising was still interested in supporting the conditioning facility, but he could not give a dollar amount.

Miller said he would vote to put any new facility as a lower priority to improving the high school’s locker rooms and existing weight rooms.

During the last board meeting, Jeff Williams, the district’s director of buildings and grounds, said he is working to get a free estimate on a variety of options for these facility improvements, which he hopes to present next month.

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.”

Superintendent Mike Sutton said any improvements would still have to be paid for by outside fundraising, something board members wholeheartedly promoted.

“It’s all dependent upon the private funds that can be raised by the involved committees,” said board member Joe Mott. “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.”

Board member Zach Lewis said said he didn’t think the turf project was 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.

Schuster said he the community’s turf committee did an “awesome job” putting the project in motion, and he hoped they would 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,” he said.

Said Miller: “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.