South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Mehlville school board engages Northstar for synthetic turf projects

The Mehlville Board of Education recently voted unanimously to direct the administration to proceed with a proposal to engage the Northstar Management Co. to serve as owner/manager for synthetic turf projects at the district’s two high schools.

As proposed, a timeline for the projects would be established along with a funding level requirement for the Oakville Mehlville Athletics & Activities Club to provide financing for an incremental district lease cost for 10 years.

Carl Arizpe, a member of the Long Range Planning Committee’s Facilities Action Team, had presented to the Board of Education in December 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.

At the March 23 board meeting, resident Brian Deters, a member of the Oakville Mehlville Athletics & Activities Club, spoke in favor of the synthetic turf projects. Another speaker, Mehlville National Education Association President Lois Clark questioned the wisdom of pursuing the projects in light of the financial challenges the district is facing.

Noting that the Board of Education has asked the community to come up with creative solutions to longstanding problems, Deters said, “… We are happy to report that after almost two years of study and comparison, our community-driven turf solution brings great value to the district without costing taxpayers additional revenue. The turf solution is the only solution we know that can actually bring in new revenue to the district, greatly improves safety for our kids and facilitates community outreach.”

Long Range Planning Committee members had met earlier that week with district administrators and Deters said, “Bottom line, we all agreed that within a margin of error, the turf project for the Mehlville School District high schools is a break-even project over 15 years. The turf project will not cost the taxpayers any extra funds nor will it take away monies from teachers or textbooks. This is most important to understand and highlight before we go into the detailed discussions of cash flow.

“This also means that every single dollar raised through field rentals, advertising or private donations will be new revenue available to the district that certainly cannot be earned with our current substandard grass fields,” he said.

During a presentation at the Feb. 28 board meeting, Arizpe announced the formation of the Oakville Mehlville Athletics & Activities Club, saying the organization would step up and solicit donations and advertising to cover any cash-flow shortfalls needed for the turf projects.

Deters on March 23 told board members that the new organization had conducted its first public meeting the previous night.

“We experienced overwhelming support for this turf project and are grateful for their feedback. The OMAAC will report its findings to the school board shortly and looks forward to facilitate an ongoing dialogue with its members to advocate their suggestions and positive ideas for consideration with the school board,” he said.

“To start, OMAAC will volunteer their expertise and time to solve all cash-flow items to effect a smooth transition to the field turf at the high schools,” Deters said.

OMAAC members also endorsed the hiring of Northstar, he later said.

“The additional cost for hiring Northstar should save us overall expense to the project and yield a process that the district requires … The bid process will produce a non-binding, legal approach for the district and the OMAAC to evaluate and produce the actual cash-flow numbers to work with,” Deters said. “Once those numbers are known, the OMAAC can then present cash-flow alternatives for the school board to consider whether or not to move forward on the turf solution sometime later this spring …”

But given the district’s financial situation, Clark questioned whether the synthetic turf projects should be pursued at this time.

“Over the past several months, there have been many hours devoted to the discussion of the budget,” she said. “On March 10, decisions were made to begin cutting different items. These decisions were painful for many. During the same time period, there’s also been a lot of discussion of putting turf on district fields. Once again, it’s on the agenda for discussion. I’m not here to question or even argue whether it’s a good idea. However, I am here to ask should the Mehlville School District be entertaining or even discussing this issue when we are looking at the elimination of bus services?

“We have few classroom resources and we’re looking at the reduction of staff. I’ve heard that the turf will pay for itself in a few years. That may or may not be true. However, what we invest in the education of our children will pay off. They are the future. So I ask you: How can the Board of Education justify putting in turf when the district cannot even provide the necessary basic resources to educate our children? When this issue comes up, please stop and think about what’s the best way to invest in our children,” Clark said.

Chief Financial Officer Steven Keyser later discussed the costs of maintaining the current grass fields compared to the cost of a 10-year lease for the synthetic turf.

“… The operating less annually over the 10 years is going to cost more than the natural grass expenses that the district currently incurs. As I said before you have either anywhere from a $316,000 to $337,000 difference depending again on what inflationary factors you use …,” he said.

In response to a question from board member Ken Leach about the cash-flow needs for a 10-year lease, Keyser said, “… There’s basically two ways you can do this. You can say, on average, somebody would have to come up with, on average, $32,000 a year, and I’m just taking $316,000 and dividing it by 10 (years). It’s going to vary from year to year … Every year we have to come up with $32,000 as the difference between what we would pay in the grass field vs. the turf field … Or if today somebody was to raise $271,000 and put that in the bank and that was to earn 4 percent per year, you would be able to make up the annual difference over the next 10 years between what the district would spend. So, in other words, each year if you put the $271,000 in the bank at 4 percent, each year the district would take out whatever was needed that year …”

Keyser later noted that if the board wanted to proceed, the administration was recommending that Northstar be engaged to act as owner/manager of the project. A second recommendation, he said, “… Is that once we establish what that amount of difference between the annual grass cost and the operating lease is that the board provide that information to the Oakville Mehlville Athletics and Activities Club and to establish whatever required funding the board would expect from them and whatever timeline that the board would want to provide also to the organization to cover whatever amount of lease costs for the 10 years …”

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