Archive for Thursday, March 1, 1990

FACILITY PROPOSALS SMACK OF POLITICS

March 1, 1990

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Whether members of the Lawrence school board's Secondary Outdoor Sports Facilities committee knew it or not, the plan they presented Tuesday was the best bit of politicking yet for a second high school.

I'm sure it wasn't lost on them. With all those college-educated people in one room, someone had to know what a pork barrel was.

The committee recommended $2,407,200 worth of additions and improvements to athletic facilities around the city. The money will be included in the November bond issue to fund a second high school.

Lawrence's existing high school would get a new track surface and 500 bleachers, practice tennis courts, a drainage system for its football field, a couple of football practice fields and a softball diamond.

What's more, Holcom Complex would get two new softball fields and have two fields expanded to accommodate baseball, and the Youth Sports Inc. soccer complex would be improved.

These changes, the committee figures, will cost a little over $1.4 million. The board can mix and match the improvements, and the price is negotiable. By cooperating with the city and YSI, the school district won't end up footing the entire bill.

The other $1 million or so would make the facilities at Lawrence's new high school and the existing one comparable.

NOW FOR THOSE of you who've forgotten your American Government, a pork barrel is a piece of legislation that benefits a specific locale or a legislator's constituents.

The committee's recommendations fit that definition. Its plans will benefit a good portion of the city. For sure they'll benefit a bigger portion than will a second high school alone.

Besides, they'll save money over the alternative, which is constructing a district-owned sports complex complete with football stadium. Olathe is building one now at a cost of over $3.5 million.

Not that the complex idea wasn't enticing for awhile.

"I was really kind of turned on by having a sports complex," board and committee member Barbara Ballard said, "but being realistic, the costs were so much."

That leaves football at Haskell Stadium, where a $750,000 renovation is planned for both grandstands. But the Haskell field barely accommodates the Lions and the Indians right now, and the committee acknowledges that the surface must be improved before a second high school team could play there.

THOSE IMPROVEMENTS, though not included in the proposal's cost, would be shared by the district and Haskell.

Sounds good. The community gets more and better places for recreational sports and both Lawrence high schools have the same, adequate facilities at an economical price.

But what if the November bond issue fails? What if there aren't two high schools?

"It's not just whether it fails or wins," superintendent Dan Neuenswander told me. "If it gets blown out, you assume it's not going to happen. If it gets beaten by a few votes, you see if you can clear up whatever the problem is to get over the hump. But there's no contingency plan to say, `Let's run another bond issue for athletic facilities.'"

Some of the planned improvements, particularly those at the present school, are pressing. For example, the track must be resurfaced soon.

"It's to the point where if we don't do something now it's going to disintegrate on us and be gone," LHS athletic director Darrell Falen said.

REALISTICALLY, the bond issue doesn't have to pass for Lawrence High to have a new track surface. The cost of $100,000 could, if it's a high enough priority, be paid from the district's capital outlay fund.

But that fund is generally only around $400,000 to $500,000. And, as Neuenswander said, "There's quite a bit of competition for that money."

The question is, can it cover the price of the pork barrel?

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