Efforts continue to finance field overhaul

Benicia Herald

❒ Estimated price tag for high school facilities upgrade: $7M

By Keri Luiz
Assistant Editor

Officials, staff, parents and students all acknowledge that the athletics facilities at Benicia High School are in need of a serious upgrade.

But with an estimated price tag of as much as $7 million to address a long list of problems with the sports complex at 1101 Military West, all involved agree that completing the overhaul will take a lot of hard work, perseverance and maybe even a little luck.

Chief Business Official Tim Rahill gave an update to Benicia Unified School District trustees last week on planned upgrades to the facilities, and the board also heard input from Jill Ray, Matt Donahue and Kathy Jacobs of the Sports Complex Steering Committee. Where to find funding was the focus of the discussion.

Rahill told the board Thursday that the committee has met five times since an open brainstorming meeting Oct. 4 to discuss potential upgrades, including an infrastructure overhaul and replacement of turf on the Drolette Stadium football field. “The steering committee has discussed several items including probable costs for a sports complex, some timelines, and also some possible funding sources,” he said.

Rahill said funding has been broken down into three areas: for the stadium’s track and field, at approximately $3,040,000; for the stadium’s bleachers, both home side and visitors’ side, for approximately $1,160,000; and for support facilities, with a range of options that put the cost at between $1.2 million and $2.2 million.

That’s a price tag well past $6 million, Rahill said.

Potential revenue sources explored by the steering committee include grants and a general obligation bond “to be presented to the community,” he said.

Committee member Ray said she hopes to hold a community-wide meeting, perhaps as early as January, to discuss funding options. “This is a community project,” she said. “All of the athletic facilities there are used by the community. We have running groups that use it. It’s important as a community project, not just the high school.”

Ray said committee members are also looking at the potential of solar power, with an eye to get the school off the grid and thus save funds. “There’s lots of aspects of this that reach beyond athletics,” she said.

Donahue, who ran unsuccessfully for school board last month, said that in addition to grants, the committee is exploring the possibility of private fundraising. “You’ve heard the numbers — private fundraising is going to be necessary,” he told the board. “We cannot do it all with grants. We don’t want to spend general funds for this project.”

Trustee Dana Dean urged the committee to look at Valero Good Neighbor Steering Committee funds, which she helped negotiate as an attorney. “If anyone wants to say that the school district isn’t entitled to additional funds, they really need to look at the whole picture,” she said. “I will also say that this particular project isn’t a school project, it’s a community project.”

She asked the room who they thought was the biggest users of the field, then said, “It’s probably the city of Benicia and the citizens of Benicia, not the high school students.

“Any funding that comes from the Valero Good Neighbor Steering Committee grants is going to benefit every single person in the city of Benicia,” Dean said. This, she said, should be mentioned by steering committee members in their grant applications — and she encouraged them to attend Community Sustainability Commission as well.

“I would say that when you put an application forward, I would expect it to be about this thick,” she said with her fingers about two inches apart.

The trustees agreed that something must be done about the deteriorating facilities.

“It’s a quality-of-student-life issue to me,” André Stewart said. “We have a track that is not unusable, but it is getting close. We have a field that doesn’t do what we need it to do, and we have stands that are in dire need of replacement. So even if we don’t do the field and the track, I think we don’t have much choice but to do something with those stands, quickly.”

But committee member Kathy Jacobs said the track is “not usable. When we have track meets, we don’t have them at Benicia. We had one last year and it was embarrassing.”

She said the soccer team practices at a local park, and the football team could schedule more home games but “many teams won’t play on our field. No teams will play on our field unless it’s a league team and they have to. “It’s really a safety issue, as well as getting these events back at our school.”

Jacobs’s comments echoed those of Superintendent of Benicia Schools Janice Adams, who said at the first community brainstorming session Oct. 4, “It’s getting to be a concern of mine and the staff’s, about safety. The bleachers are in disrepair, the field has ruts and holes.

“The staff works incredibly hard to make it as safe as possible, but it’s just old and needs some upgrades.”

via Efforts continue to finance field overhaul.

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