Mehlville board rejects motion to seek proposals for synthetic turf for high school fields

By MIKE ANTHONY

The Mehlville Board of Education recently rejected a motion to issue a request for proposals to replace the grass athletic fields at the district’s two high schools with a synthetic surface.

Board members voted 4-2 during a closed session to de-feat the motion, which was made by Ken Leach and seconded by Karl Frank Jr., according to information ob-tained from the district by the Call under the provisions of the Missouri Open Meetings and Records Law, also called the Sunshine Law.

“Mr. Leach made a motion, seconded by Mr. Frank, to put out a request for proposal for a $1.3 million lease over a 10-year period for the fields in order to pursue what the Long Range Planning Committee recommended,” the in-formation provided to the Call stated.

While Leach and Frank voted in favor of the motion, President Rita Diekemper, Secretary Mike Heins, Cindy Christopher and Tom Correnti were opposed. Vice President Bill Schornheuser was absent from the Feb. 9 closed session.

In December, Carl Arizpe, a member of the Long Range Planning Committee’s Facilities Action Team, had presented to the board the team’s recommendation to replace the grass athletic fields at the two high schools with synthetic turf, citing improved safety for students, reduced maintenance costs and better utilization of space, among other reasons. The board took no action on the proposal.

On Jan. 12, several people spoke in favor of the proposal during a period for public comment as a standing-room-only turnout filled the boardroom of the Administration Building. The item came up under old business on the meeting agenda, near the end of roughly four-hour meeting, but no action was taken because the district’s chief financial officer, Stephen Keyser, had not completed a financial analysis.

“I put the turf proposal update on there not as an information or action item because of the discussion and presentation at the previous meeting,” Superintendent Tim Ricker said Jan. 12. “Mr. Keyser’s do-ing a financial analysis and is making contacts with the people that Mr. Arizpe talked with as far as the lease, and we’re checking with our attorneys on information related to that. So we’ll have something for you at the next meeting based on our analysis.”

At the December meeting, Arizpe had estimated the synthetic fields would cost roughly $950,000 for both high schools in which the district would reach a break-even point in 12 to 13 years. But the district’s preliminary numbers differed from the estimate, Ricker said Jan. 12 in re-sponse to a question from Leach.

“… At this point in time on the analysis from the discussion at the meeting, we’re about $45,000 a year off over the 10-year lease or depending on how you look at it, a lump sum of over $350,000 that will cover that additional money,” Ricker said. “The thing that Mr. Keyser has to look at is the inflation as well as double checking all the numbers …”

After further discussion, in which Arizpe reminded the board that a Jan. 31 deadline existed for the proposal, Leach asked to have the item placed on the board’s Jan. 25 agenda. The item did not appear on the board’s open-session agenda either Jan. 25 or Feb. 9.

Leach told the Call that he was disappointed the motion to issue a request for proposals was defeated and praised the work of the Facilities Action Team, saying, “They did all this work just like all of the other Long Range Planning Committee (action teams) and they submitted their recommendations and we followed all the recommendations except for this one. To me, this one has the most detail that was presented to us and it’s the only one that has a chance of actually being revenue neutral … So I just don’t get it. We approved everything else. We put it on Prop A. The reason we didn’t put this with Prop A was only because it didn’t need to be put on Prop A. We didn’t need any money for it. So I thought we should go ahead with the lease …”

The Facilities Action team “did the right thing,” he said. “They put together a scenario that actually was the worst-case scenario that they could come up with … Now if you layered in revenue capabilities and if you layered in what everybody else is spending on their fields, it’s a no-brainer.”

Noting that the deadline had been extended to Feb. 28, Leach said the cost of issuing the request would have been minimal and seeking proposals would not obligate the board to accept any proposal.

“What I would like to see is where we could represent this to everyone so there’s no misinformation out there and then anyone that opposes it can put their information out there, and the Long Range Planning Committee can put theirs out there, and then people could make an educated decision on it rather than a just a guess with misinformation that’s just scattered around right now,” he said.