Panel believes turf project can be done for ’06-’07 school year

By MIKE ANTHONY

A committee recommending the replacement of the grass athletic fields at the Mehlville School District’s two high schools with a synthetic surface believes the project can be done in time for the start of the coming school year.

Carl Arizpe, a member of the Long Range Planning Committee’s Facilities Action Team, had presented to the Mehlville Board of Education in December the team’s recommendation to replace the grass athletic fields with synthetic turf, citing improved safety for students, reduced maintenance costs and better utilization of space, among other reasons.

But during a Feb. 9 closed session, board members voted 4-2 to reject a motion to issue a request for proposals to replace the two grass athletic fields with a synthetic surface.

On Feb. 28, Arizpe updated his previous presentation to the board, offering “kind of a little history as to why we’re recommending such a thing in the middle of such a terrible budget crisis.”

In studying the synthetic turf issue, Arizpe said, “… A parameter that we gave ourselves was that it had to be revenue neutral or pay for itself — not cost the taxpayers a dime, not take away one teacher and not one textbook. So that’s what we put on ourselves as a goal. We didn’t know if we could get there or not.”

He continued, “To our surprise and great happiness was that we found an approved state buying contract, which means the state of Missouri has grouped with 17 other states and has a whole array of things that they can buy without going through a bid process because it’s already won a bid every year … What that means is it saves us bidding costs, architectural costs and many other costs that you would normally do in a bid, which is important. Secondly, we found leasing is a viable option to spread the cost, the initial cost, over a 10-year period, which allows us to redirect current expenses on grass fields …”

Furthermore, synthetic turf fields can be used five to 10 more times than grass fields, while reducing injuries.

“Today we spend as a district, depending on the way you look at the numbers, you spend $150,000 on transportation for athletic programs. Of that, estimates range anywhere from $50,000 to $75,000 we spend in practice time for transportation. By having a turf field, we would net out a savings of at least $10,000, if not $15,000 to $20,000, depending on how you look at the numbers per school because you wouldn’t be able to eliminate all of your transportation, but you’d certainly be able to impact it in a significant way — probably by half,” he said.

Installation of synthetic fields also would allow the district to serve as host of regional events and generate revenue by renting the fields.

“… We started this process two years ago. We really started looking at it really, really hard after public comment a year ago and now with all the issues that we’ve had, unfortunately this issue came up at the same time because it was in the same process of the Long Range Planning Committee that came up with Prop A,” he later said. “And so the natural question is how in the heck could we afford to so something like this when we can’t afford a textbook? Well, hopefully by going through the facts you’ll be with me and we have all these facts up on oakvilletigers.org, and our goal for this is still to be ready for the fall ’06 season.

“It still can be done and I just thought I’d put the timelines out for the board to consider today. I know you’re taking a process that — I don’t know if you want to comment on that a little bit today or not but you don’t have to — but I did want to mention that our committee still feels it can be done under the timelines of April 20 go to contract and have fields under construction by May 20. That’s what it would take. If we’re not able to make that, then we’ll lose that year. And after two years of working on this and a lot of people’s support, we’d like to see if we can make that happen if at all possible,” he said.

Board member Ken Leach asked, “How much would we be pouring into the fields right now if we wait another year?”

Arizpe replied, “… The Oakville field is in pretty bad shape right now. Mehlville’s field is not as bad. They just put about $30,000 into it over the last couple of years. It’s time again to put the $30,000 into the Oakville field. So this year alone we would spend $50,000 on each field — that’s $100,000 — and maybe a little bit extra because we only figured $10,000 for each field on seed. So this year, $110,000-$120,000 …”

Board Vice President Bill Schornheuser later said, “The problem always has been where do we get the cash to pay for the first five years? … Depending on which number, it’s either five or 10 years. Even with the savings, it doesn’t cover the cash-flow problem. That’s always been the concern, and to have cash, it’s got to come from somewhere.”

Arizpe later noted, “We spend $100,000. The lease costs us $170,000 for 10 years, right? Seventy-thousand dollars is what you’re talking about the difference.”

Schornheuser said, “I understand. We need to find $70,000.”

Arizpe noted that two local high schools — CBC and SLUH — are generating $40,000 per year in field rentals; Mehlville’s two fields could generate a total of $80,000 — $10,000 more than the $70,000 shortfall, Arizpe said.

“That’s one way of doing it,” Arizpe said.

Schornheuser said, “If you can get the rentals.”

“Now you asked me a question, do we have anybody stepping up?” Arizpe said, asking resident Brian Deters, who was helping with the presentation, how many people have stepped up to assist.

Deters said, “I made four phone calls, and we had four people step up and one gave us a commitment of almost $10,000 just to rent the fields. There’s so few soccer fields in this area …”

Arizpe said, “… The bottom line is you’re right, we have a little bit of a shortfall — $70K — during those years, right? We have to work together as a community, as a community outreach, to make these numbers work, and if we do, then we have an incredible gain in years 11 through 15. So we think we have found that, just simply from field rentals …”

But if that doesn’t work, Arizpe said the difference could be made up through public donations and community outreach, and he announced the formation of the Oakville Mehlville Athletics & Activities Club.

“So where are we going with this? Pretend like we weren’t going to make that $40,000 on field rentals — zero. Our goal, our mission is to cover that shortfall through this foundation, (which) has the ability to accept donations and the ability to funnel the advertisements that are generated from our new fields,” Arizpe said.

Board members took no action.