School field repair plan expected tonight

The city and its elementary school district say they should reach an agreement on how to pay for massive repairs to badly damaged school fields by Feb. 1 after extending a temporary agreement from its Jan. 1 expiration date.

At a City Council meeting tonight, the agreement to extend the window of time in which to hammer out a deal to finance the upgrades will be announced. The fields need at least $3.5 million worth of initial upgrades, according to an independent report in September, and need to be irrigated, resodded, drained of sand as well as have new backdrops and other equipment installed.

The city has proposed that each side pay at least $2 million and split any additional renovation costs. The district, however, is in dire financial straits and has suffered $1.8 million in budget cuts during the last three years. Under the current agreement, it pays only $30,000 per year to the city.

Superintendent Shirley Martin said the two sides are close to reaching a deal and that the district would have to think “outside the box” on how to pay for the fields. She would not comment on how the district would find room in its budget for the repairs, or exactly how much the district would be paying, however, until negotiations are complete.

The repairs should be completed in time for spring sports, Martin said. Ironically, cuts to maintenance and custodial staff made in the last few years contributed to the deteriorated conditions of the fields, she said.

City Manager Ralph Jaeck also would not get into specific negotiations, but said the talks were progressing and that a deal will get done soon. Both the schools and the community have lost use of the fields because of their virtually unplayable conditions, Community Development Director Ralph Petty said.

The two fields in need of the most care are Taylor Middle School and Green Hills Elementary School, which the city uses to play baseball and soccer league games. The public can use the other three school fields in the district if they fill out a field use agreement form.

The two sides will meet again in the first week of January.

mrosenberg@examiner.com

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