Laws Field decision sidelined
Board wants to see cost study before making a decision on field
Because the school district can't base a decision regarding Laws Field on rough cost estimates alone, the Board of Education is waiting for the results of a cost study to decide what Eudora USD 491 should do with an athletic facility it's quickly outgrowing.
At a Sept. 23 meeting, Superintendent Marty Kobza said he would look into having the architectural firm that designed the high school outline the costs of a plan developed by principals, athletic directors and coaches that was also well-received by the board. The administrative plan calls for putting a varsity track, football and possibly a soccer facility on the new high school's campus on South Church Street but keeping Laws Field for middle school football. Issues yet to be resolved include: whether Laws would be used for track practice, all sub-varsity football activity, or whether the field could be widened and fenced off for soccer. The last option would leave two track lanes for joggers or walkers in the community, like at Silver Lake's facility.
The plan called for a new football facility to begin with grass and add turf when affordable. Visitors bleachers from Laws Field would be relocated to the new facility, which would include rest rooms, concession stands and lockers.
Laws' problems include: a track that can't be widened to the eight lanes necessary for regional competition without massive revamping; safety issues surrounding transporting high school and middle school students to the facility for practice; and lack of on-site locker room facilities.
"What we have right now is definitely inadequate," said high school Activities Director Dave Durkin, citing the fact that track teams practiced field events on the softball and baseball facilities, which created supervision problems for coaches.
Despite these challenges, board members, like Greg Neis, said they'd rather see the district keep Laws in use rather than selling it to a developer or to the city. Neis pointed out that once the property belonged to the city or a developer, the district no longer had control over what might go in next to Nottingham Elementary School.
Fellow board member Kenny Massey articulated the aesthetic argument for keeping Laws in use.
"I think it's very pleasing to the eyes when you come off K-10," he said.
Massey added that he'd heard from out-of-towners that seeing the stadium first thing when coming into Eudora made a good impression. He said City Administrator Mike Yanez felt the same way after his first visit to Eudora.
Although board member Carlie Abel said he supported keeping Laws in use, he objected to transferring the 2 percent allowed by law from the district's general fund into capital outlay in order to finance the project.
"That 2 percent needs to be in the general fund for school purposes," he said. "I like sports as much as the next guy, but we need to make sure we get the job done in the classroom."
Kobza said to afford a new facility the district would probably keep Laws as is for four years while building funds for the new stadium. About $200,000 each year ends up in capital outlay, he said, but because of start-up costs associated with the new high school, the district probably wouldn't be able to start saving money until the 2004-2005 academic year. Rough estimates indicate a new facility would cost $1 million or more, but Kobza said he should have specific information about the cost by next month.
"You could not afford to do a stadium like a Goddard or a Rockhurst without taking it to a bond," Kobza said, referring to two of the state's premiere, multi-million dollar facilities.
A new track facility is included in the bond package, but Kobza said he asked contractors to hold off on the project until the district made a decision on Laws. The space allotted for the track, sandwiched in between Church Street and the building, wouldn't provide enough room for a full stadium. A space to the north of the school would, but that would mean building an east-west facing stadium like Baldwin and Arrowhead.
Board member Brenda Clark said she thought the plan seemed like a step in the right direction.
"We'll have four years of wear-and-tear, and then you're going to have two separate facilities," she said. "It seems like the logical way to go."