Archive for Thursday, January 19, 2006

Citizens briefed on stadium plans

January 19, 2006

The Eudora USD 491 Board of Education's information session on building a new stadium might not have changed Sharon Burns-Bohm's mind, but it did teach her a few new facts.

She, along with about 50 others who packed inside the Eudora High School library Monday, watched a 35-minute slide show presented by Superintendent Marty Kobza that highlighted the history of the stadium from a planning retreat in 2002, to the reasons behind discussing styles of turf for the possible grounds.

"I think it went very well," Burns-Bohm said.

The district decided to schedule the information meeting in response to a protest petition that halted plans to lease-purchase the $2.5 million project last November.

Kobza opened the session by acknowledging Martin Luther King Jr. Day and affirmed the need for open discussion.

"Today is a holiday. We didn't have school," Kobza said. "Part of that is celebrating democracy, celebrating the freedom we have in the United States ---- the freedom to express our opinions, the freedom to react and play a part in our democracy."

During the computer-aided slide presentation, one of the themes Kobza hit upon was the history and openness in which the district discussed the stadium project.

"Overall, the real issue here is that this has been discussed openly since 2002 and in open session," Kobza said.

The presentation outlined the evolution of the project from its original discussions on how to best renovate Laws Field, to the board's rejection of a bid that would have built a new stadium in 2003.

Kobza addressed the perceived need for an improved facility in multiple ways.

"When we approach the end of the season, we get some real issues as far as safety and players playing on a field with no grass on it," Kobza said.

The current track situation poses a different issue as high school students drive to Laws Field and cut through the parking lot at Nottingham Elementary School, possibly putting younger students walking to their parent's cars in jeopardy, Kobza said.

"There's such a thing as foresee ability," Kobza said. "If there's an issue, we need to address it.

After establishing the need, Kobza explained how a lease-purchasing agreement might work for the district.

"It's like if you would take out a mortgage, you would make a payment every so often," Kobza said.

The lease-purchase option would have qualified the district for state aid on the project, Kobza said.

Throughout the presentation, Kobza reiterated the school board's resolve to keep taxes in check.

Although the school board voted to raise the cap on its local option budget from four to eight mills, effectively increasing taxes by one mill, because of property evaluation, taxes could fall up to two mills in the 2006-2007 school year's budget, Kobza said.

If the lease-purchase of the stadium had been approved last fall, the overall cost would not have affected fall taxes, Kobza said.

Following Kobza's presentation, community members had a chance to make comments and ask questions about the stadium.

Some questioned the feasibility or status of a plan that could unofficially give use and responsibility of Laws Field to the city. Others brought into question the priorities of the school district.

In light of a 2008 bond issue, in which the district looks to build a new elementary school and add on to current buildings, Kobza was asked why the district doesn't build the school now as opposed to the stadium.

"We can't afford to," Kobza said. "Here's what I mean by that -- to build a new elementary school with the capacity of about 400 students in today's dollars is about $8 or $9 million."

The project drew commentary from Kurt von Achen, chair of the Eudora Planning Commission.

"I think you make a good case, and I was very happy to hear you finally mention the auditorium that's an issue to me ---- that we have no auditorium," von Achen said.

Being uneasy with the idea of a lease-purchase scenario, von Achen suggested to Kobza the district bond out both a stadium and an auditorium to the public, which sparked a brief rumble of applause.

"Let us vote on it," von Achen said.

During discussion, Eudora National Education Association president Bob Sailler questioned funds within the general fund that could be seen as being spent toward capital outlay projects.

In response, Kobza explained the money would have been set out as new facilities weighting, added money the state provides on a per pupil basis to the district for students in newly built classrooms. The funds were used for furniture for the building and to shore up the capital outlay fund, the superintendent said.

Following the commentary and questions, community members gathered in groups to discuss the issue and talked with the board members on a one-on-one basis.

At the beginning of the meeting, Richard Campbell, one of the forces behind November's protest petition, brought a written reply to each of the board's stated reasons and explanations for the stadium.

By the end of the meeting he said he was pleased the meeting took place.

"I thought it was a wonderful idea. I think it would be a good idea to have another one," Campbell said.

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