Is building a new track and field necessary?

Proposition 2 would issue $5 million in bonds

Posted: Thursday, June 07, 2007

Some people see a need for a new artificial turf field and track at Thunder Mountain High School, while others say it would duplicate an existing facility less than a mile from the construction site.

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Voters decide in Tuesday's special election whether to issue $5 million in general obligation bonds for the track and football-soccer field. Proposition 2 would increase property taxes to pay for the facility.

Like its two companion measures, however, the Prop. 2 project would qualify for 70 percent reimbursement from the state if approved.

School District Facilities Coordinator Deb Morse saidthe new track and field are necessary to make ThunderMountain a comprehensive educational facility.

Not only will it accommodate new soccer, football and track and field teams, it also could be used for physical education classes and by the community at large, she said.

"With us adding this second high school, eventually, if not sooner than later, we will have extra teams," Morse said.

The facility would reduce injuries and decrease janitorial costs by allowing athletics on a surface other than dirt, she said.

Morse said voters have a chance to act now and qualify for the state's reimbursement plan before it disappears in November of 2008.

If Prop. 2 passes, taxpayers would be responsible for $1.5 million of the $5 million cost, or approximately $4.70 per year over 10 years for each $100,000 worth of assessed property.

"That's $150 total for a person with a $300,000 home," Morse said. "I know that every little bit adds up, and adds up fast, but I guess what it gives us is a comprehensive school."

Juneau-Douglas High School baseball coach Jim Ayers said he is not necessarily against Prop. 2, but doesn't think it addresses the needs of the community. He said baseball and softball players have been vying for turf fields for years.

"There are hundreds of kids playing baseball and softball who play on gravel and glacier silt," Ayers said. "My view is that there are community needs for the boys and girls in the community ... the facilities being built should address needs."

More than 1,000 kids participated in baseball and softball in Juneau last season, Ayers said. The city realizes the need to upgrade baseball and softball fields, but those upgrades aren't covered by Prop. 2.

"They are building facilities and then trying to identify the needs, instead of identifying the needs and building the facility," Ayers said.

Little League coach Jon Heifetz also said he is not necessarily against the proposition, but said there is clearly a need for upgraded baseball fields.

"It would be nice to have another baseball field before they put in another football field," he said.

Morse said the Prop. 2 plan qualifies for state reimbursement because it is a multi-use facility that would accommodate track and field, soccer and football.

Getting state reimbursement for a baseball or softball field would be difficult because they would be for one sport, not several, she said.

JDHS track and field coach Scott May said Juneau needs another artificial turf field and rubber-surfaced running track, even if they are a close to another track and field.

It's hard to schedule time at the Adair-Kennedy track and field for high school and middle school soccer and track teams, he said. Adair-Kennedy is next to Floyd Dryden Middle School, less than a mile from Thunder Mountain High School.

"It's complicated, and it's full," May said. "What happens right now is we are booked in there at the same time as the middle school track and field and middle school soccer programs."

It would be a nightmare if the new high school also had soccer and track teams that tried to compete for space at Adair-Kennedy field, he said.

"I can't see how it would be done, adding a new full comprehensive high school," May said. "If it is looking that way then we really do need this new track and field."

Even if voters approve Prop. 2, it will take time to design and build the track and field, Morse said. The sooner the district has a decision, the better, she said.

"Probably the soonest it could go out to bid is early next spring," Morse said. Construction would likely take place in the summer and maybe fall of 2008.

"It probably won't be ready exactly when the school opens," Morse said.

School Board member Margo Waring said she has heard a number of concerns about the growing price tag of the new high school.

"It seems to me that many people in the community are distressed about the bottom-line figure, but to me the issue is do you punish kids for that?" she said.

If voters reject Prop. 2, there would still be several elections requesting support to qualify for reimbursement from the state, Morse said.

• Eric Morrison can be reachedat 523-2269 or at eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.



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