Come February, voters in the Liverpool Central School District will get another chance to decide if the high school stadium, track and field will be repaired.
On Dec. 8, the board of education voted 7 to 1 (Colleen Pallotta was not present and Mike Murphy voted no) to approve the project as proposed by the district’s stadium committee Nov. 24. The vote clears the way for district officials to put the proposal to a referendum to be held Feb. 26, 2009.
The new proposal trims what board member Donna Marsh O’Connor called “extras” — new lighting, new scoreboard, new press box, more storage space and more concession space.
“This is really a bare-bones fix of what we already have,” O’Connor said. “We will figure out a way to get the extras, maybe through a corporate sponsorship.”
The pared-down proposal calls for an eight-lane, all-weather synthetic track; an artificial turf field (the subsurface slag and other unsafe materials under the track and parts of the field would be removed); and new bleachers.
The estimated cost for the project is $5.8 million. Of that, $200,000 would come from state Excel Aid, $1,240,000 from the district’s capital reserve fund (which it needs voter approval to access) and $110,000 from the turf reserve fund. Because the project is 86 percent aid-able, there would be no tax impact.
Superintendent Jan Matousek said the new proposal differs from those presented to voters in February and June of this year in that it has been scaled back significantly.
“The original proposal, the $6.3 million proposal, included the track and field and bleachers, but it also included lights, a scoreboard, renovations to the concession stand and press box and increased storage space,” Matousek said. “Those are things that we’ve decided we might be able to get over time through fundraising and other efforts.”
Matousek said the price tag is still high because of the materials discovered under the track during this year’s renovations, which were approved by voters in May of 2007.
“In the time period since [the last vote in] June, as you know, a substance was found under the track and under part of the field,” she said. “In order to do this right, we have to excavate those areas, and that’s where the extra money comes in.”
The project also takes more from the capital reserve fund.
“Since June, we’ve been able to build up our capital reserve fund so we can use more of that to offset the cost,” Matousek said. “And that’s money that we can’t use for other things, like our regular budget.”
A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled to take place on Feb. 12 with the referendum vote to follow two weeks later.
If voters approve the project, construction could begin by October of 2009. The project is estimated to take eight to 12 months to complete.
Why not grass?
Acting Athletic Director Mark Potter said the stadium committee closely examined the question of a grass field over a turf field. However, they ultimately rejected the idea, as it wasn’t cost effective.
“Over a 20-year period, you can come up with a per-event cost,” Potter said. “While there would be some cost savings initially in putting in grass, the cost of the underlying materials, which have to be addressed no matter what we do, is the same.”
In a grass stadium, Potter said the district could host no more than 60 events.
“You’re talking just the football schedule, the field hockey schedule and both lacrosse schedules,” he said. “There would be no practices there, and no phys ed classes. Plus, grass is weather-contingent. On a turf field, there’s really no limit in terms of the number of events.”
Potter also said the costs of maintenance and irrigation of a grass field would up the total, making it an impractical choice for Liverpool.
Several board members addressed the current economic crisis, but said it was still the right time to propose the project.
“[President-Elect] Obama is saying we need public works projects — highways and schools,” Joe Unangst said. “So there may be money available for capital projects in schools early next year.”
Board Vice President David Savlov said the stadium might provide a rallying point for community members during hard times.
“Spirit is at an all-time low in Liverpool,” Savlov said. “Morale is low. This is something people can rally behind in these dire economic times.”
And Pat Mouton pointed out that the district has spent more than $50,000 since last year to bus its athletes to different fields because Liverpool lacks a home turf.
O’Connor urged the public to support the project.
“This is a constant reminder of what we’re not doing right in this district,” she said. “If we don’t do it, there will remain this huge hole in our district, spiritually and physically. We have to have this, one way or another.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.