Lawrence school board members on Monday will consider a variety of options for improving outdoor athletic facilities, including - possibly as early as next season - playing home football games at each high school.
The plans presented would be done in phases and "with the parameter that we're not looking at any kind of tax increase or bond issue to accomplish these projects," Superintendent Randy Weseman said.
Administrators Thursday afternoon outlined the options they will present to board members at their 7 p.m. Monday meeting, including the first phase, which is an estimated $2.8 million project of installing lights, 4,000-seat bleachers, artificial turf and restrooms at the track facilities at Free State and Lawrence high schools.
The fields would be used for football, soccer, band and track for practice and competition for a few years. Administrators say that if the board gives an approval to move forward Monday, it's possible the upgrades could be finished in time for the fall.
Administrators are looking at using a financing tool called performance contracting to pay for projects like installing turf, because it would save on water, mowing and fertilizing. Performance contracting rewards energy-efficient methods.
The school district also has $2.4 million remaining from its 2005 $54 million bond issue that improved the high schools and junior high schools. The rest of the money for the improvements would come from the district's existing capital outlay fund and possibly other financing tools, administrators said.
School districts are restricted to using capital outlay and bond funds to improve their buildings, and the money can't be used to pay salaries and other expenses.
Adding parking at LHS could also be part of the first phase. A second phase would include adding artificial turf baseball and softball fields at both high schools and improving the tennis courts. It could also include taking care of an $11 million backlog of projects at the elementary schools.
A possible third phase could include working toward a school district sports facility years down the road. The district would likely try to partner with private donors to raise funds, Weseman said, but he did not outline specifics.
The projects are meant to provide more practice fields at each high school to keep students from driving across town after school. Also, the improvements are meant to create equity between the two high schools, said Tom Bracciano, the district's division director for operations and facility planning.
Both high school football teams have played home games at Haskell Stadium, which the school district leases for $3,000 a game. Since last fall, administrators have been in talks with Haskell Indian Nations University about partnering to improve the field, including possibly adding an artificial surface.
But Haskell recently moved forward with its own project that cost more than $20,000 to resod and regrade the field for next season, Athletic Director Ted Juneau said.
Weseman said today that rent a Haskell would increase to $5,000 per game, meaning the board would need to authorize the extra spending for next year.
"We came to realize the turf was not going to be anything that happened the next season," Juneau said.
The Haskell athletic director said it's still possible the school district and Haskell could partner in the future to add turf to the stadium, but the school board needs to decide which direction it wants to go.
Weseman said was not unreasonable for Haskell to request the increase to rent based on the improvements.
Lawrence High has played at Haskell Stadium for decades. Weseman said the tradition may be a factor in the board's decision.
"At the same time, if they're going to maximize their resources, one would have to ask, are you going to continue to pay rent to live in a place? Or are you going to buy a place?" he said.
It would still be possible the city showdown game could still be played at Haskell because 8,000 seats would be needed, Weseman said.