The plan outlined this week by Lawrence Schools Superintendent Randy Weseman is a reasonable strategy to address immediate high school athletic facility needs and set the stage for the long-range possibility of a districtwide sports facility.
Planning for a district sports venue is in extremely early stages, but the prospect of local schools partnering with a foundation established by Kansas University basketball coach Bill Self seems to offer many opportunities, not the least of which is to fund a health and wellness center and outdoor playing fields without placing an additional burden on local taxpayers.
Self and his family founded the Assists Foundation to promote wellness and physical activity among young people. Fundraising already has begun to develop an Assists campus in the greater Kansas City/Lawrence area. Of course, Lawrence residents would be delighted to have that facility right here in KU's home town.
The partnership with the Lawrence schools would be a good one. The district has just hired a new part-time wellness coordinator and has many other staff resources to offer to the Assists program. From the foundation's side, simply lending Self's name to the project would be a huge asset in planning and fundraising.
Even if a deal was reached between the district and the foundation, however, it would take some time to move forward on the new facility. In the meantime, Weseman has presented an innovative plan to improve playing fields at both local high schools and avoid a sizable increase in the cost of playing football games at Haskell Stadium.
Administrators have estimated it will cost $2.8 million to install artificial turf, bleachers and restrooms to the current track facilities at both high schools. However, most, if not all, of that cost can be financed using money the district will save on watering, mowing and fertilizing the existing natural turf. Although the district has $2.4 million left over from a 2005 bond issue for capital improvements, Weseman now says that money shouldn't be needed for the field improvements and could be directed to other maintenance needs.
That makes these plans hard to argue with. The fact that the fields can be upgraded without diverting money from academic uses should please most district patrons. And even if a district's dream of a central sports facility comes true, the facilities that are improved now still will be used as practice fields and for other activities.
Although many details must be worked out, including how to cover the ongoing expense of operating the facility, the idea of partnering with Self's foundation on a sports and wellness center is an enticing possibility. What a wonderful example it would be town-gown cooperation between KU and the city that is its home and its biggest fan.