G-A stadium project OK’d, public fundraising campaign favored

PAT FRIDGEN
Around 300 people attended Thursday night's school board meeting.

Kaley Field will have a new football surface this fall, and a new track next spring, based on the decision of the Greencastle-Antrim Board of School Directors April 7.

On a 6-1 count, the board approved the recommendation of the Facilities Development Committee to award the stadium improvement project bid of $1.36 million to David Martin Excavating, Chambersburg, for site, field and track work, including an artificial turf football field and practice field. The electrical contract went to Monacacy Valley Electric of Littlestown, which includes replacing the stadium lights, for $463,500. With additional soft costs, the approved project was set at $2.28 million.

Because the school district was entering into a contract, five votes were needed for passage. The members in favor were Joel Fridgen, Howard Ritchey, Mike Shindle, William Thorne, Melinda Cordell and Kristy Faulkner. Eric Holtzman was opposed. Brian Hissong and Paul Politis were absent.

Two-thirds of the total board roster was needed to approve the board’s intent to issue debt obligations to finance the measure. The 6-1 vote was recorded the same as the previous tally.

Prelude

Prior to public comment, superintendent Dr. C. Gregory Hoover explained that the purpose of the 6 p.m. worksession was to discuss the stadium improvement project. The board would act on the matter at the 7 p.m. meeting.

If the board approved the project, he said the administration recommended using $1.5 million in the restricted capital reserve fund, which could be applied to any capital improvement. The board could borrow money and use the reserves to pay on the annual debt service.

Hoover was also in negotiations with an advertising firm to bring national ads to the athletic facilities.

“Though I never believe in ‘guarantees’, the projection for us is that it will generate between $100,000 to $300,000 a year,” he reported.

That could pay the annual debt service, he continued, and a capital campaign, increased rental fees, and higher activity and gate fees, could offset the expenditure and fund additional work at the stadium or other athletic facilities in the future.

Hoover said the administration and board had no intention of using general fund money for the stadium. The operating budget for 2011-2012 would be voted on two more times.

While some members of the community were declaring the board planned to pass an 8.6 mill tax increase that night, Hoover said that number came from January figures which showed the initial deficit between expenditures and revenue. Already cuts had dropped the mill rate significantly and more cuts were on the way, Hoover stated. The proposed school renovation project was the most significant cut; funding for it was eliminated in next year’s budget, and the board would vote on April 21 to halt construction.

“In June, the final budget will look a lot different than it does today,” Hoover said.

A crowd came

Approximately 300 people packed the middle school cafeteria to listen or share their opinions on the stadium issue. Those planning to speak during public comment registered at the door. The board, seated on the stage, set aside one hour to hear from its constituents. The residents for or against the project spoke from separate microphones.

While many people did not want taxpayer money used for the stadium, especially through a tax increase, they were supportive of alternative sources of funding. Max Houck said,  “I don’t want a single taxpayer dollar spent for the football fields. Athletics are a privilege.”

Cindy Leckron favored increased player fees and admission prices. Gerald Lute wanted a compromise on the facilities, such as just one turf field. Jack Dunn urged finding private donors. Kelly Spinner said there was no more money for taxpayers to give, and she would help raise money from the outside.

Others were also willing to help. Mike Vaughn wanted a community drive; Mike Baker thought businesses and wealthy people would donate and the students could do fundraising. Denise Shifflet observed “if we have this much energy in the room, why can’t we reach out to the community to raise the funds?”

Kathy Olivier said people in Greencastle were a giving group and she would happily help raise money through a capital campaign. Walter Osenbaugh supported the tactics of residents in Mercersburg and Hagerstown, Md. to obtain private funding.

“I support the field but not when it comes out of my pocket in taxes,” he said.

James Golden opposed any tax increase, since for the next two years the school would have to contribute $800,000 to teacher retirement funds. That was where the money should be directed instead. Mary Doub said even if the board did not raise taxes now, it would for renovations in the future.

Folks on the other side of the aisle advocated for the project. David Spencer was excited by the turnout and acknowledged the district was beyond the point of fixing the fields. He believed a capital campaign would be too slow for getting the improvements started in a timely manner. Liz Keller thought the project would demonstrate the district’s Character Counts focus of citizenship and caring. Edwin Smith was not certain taxes in 2011 were any higher, relatively speaking, than they were in 1960.

Vernon McCauley spoke “as the voice of Greencastle-Antrim Blue Devils football.” The public address announcer for the home games said the school football program was the talk of the town, and he wanted quality facilities so people would continue to want to move to Greencastle. Kevin Jackson knew the board had been elected to make hard decisions, and Pennsylvania’s tax code, taxing real estate rather than income for school funding, was the real problem.

Felicia Hollingshead was frustrated the citizens had been alerted to the field conditions “at the 11th hour”, but wanted facilities that allowed home games and sports as a viable option for kids, or they could get into trouble. Lanny Carbaugh said the board had not done enough, but a capital campaign could work.

“If it means for us to get off our butts to raise funds, we can do it, but it’s going to take you and you (pointing at audience) and then you (pointing at the board) to do it.”

The generally polite audience grumbled a few times when supporters of the upgrade were speaking. As soon as the vote was completed, most of the people left, so the board paused its agenda.