School districts spending millions on stadiums |

School districts spending millions on stadiums

Baseball stadiums with a “throwback” style have been all the rage among professional teams.

Public school districts, meanwhile, have been sinking millions in tax dollars to build multisport facilities over the past 10 years. The construction trend has been aluminum bleachers, a new fieldhouse and public facilities, and synthetic turf designed to withstand the beating of football, soccer and field hockey programs.

Reports that two Allegheny County school districts are in midst of spending nearly $20 million for athletic complexes has re-ignited community debates about how much money sports stadiums deserve in public schools.

South Fayette and Woodland Hills are among at least 14 school districts that have poured more than $66 million into sports facilities over the past few years.

South Fayette is about $1 million over its $10 million budget on a nearly complete stadium complex that includes a new weightroom, locker rooms and district administration offices.

The Woodland Hills School Board approved an $8.2 million spending plan to upgrade the Wolvarena earlier this week. Pine-Richland and North Hills spent $9.2 in 2003 and $10 million in 2002 respectively on their stadiums.

Hempfield Area is one of the districts that decided to dig deep to fund stadium renovations.

The $1.5 million spent on a new press box and related amenities at Hempfield’s stadium included a $500,000 expenditure for restrooms.

When they approved the overall project, school directors said they didn’t realize the cost included $500,000 just for the restrooms and a storage building. They learned of it only after reviewing a line-item breakdown of costs.

Director Tony Bompiani blamed the costly expenditure on poor communication.

“That was the shoddiest job of reporting to us,” Bompiani said.”Shame on all of us for that job. That cost the taxpayers more than any of us wanted to spend. I don’t think anybody would have voted for that.”

Southmoreland School District is completing a renovation of its stadium in Alverton that included new bleachers and a fieldhouse installed five years ago. Work on a new track was completed this spring, and field turf at the stadium is being installed. The total cost of the project is about $2.4 million.

Greensburg Salem School District doled out $2.9 million to renovate Offutt Field, which debuted its upgraded look last fall. Renovations included new aluminum bleachers and fieldhouse with locker rooms and an expanded concession area and bathroom facility.

Since Seton Hill University’s football team also plays there, the college contributed $350,000 toward the $500,000 expense for the field turf.

Offutt Field was last renovated in 1964.

The Norwin School District spent approximately $3.5 million on artificial turf, bleacher improvements, a new press box, fieldhouse and a new track. The renovations were done in phases between 2002 and 2004.

Some residents recently blasted administrators for spending too much on stadiums and new buildings and increasing taxes.

Cindy Hufford, of North Huntingdon Township, was outraged that the district was considering a tax increase after spending money for renovations.

“No one should lose their home because of taxes. How important is a new stadium?” she said at a school board meeting last week.

Costs to upgrade a sports facility have been taking a big bite out of school budgets for several years.

In 1998, Penn-Trafford School District spent $650,000 on artificial turf at Warrior Stadium and $1.16 million to install bleachers and a fieldhouse at the Harrison City facility.

“At that time, that was a deal for the turf,” said Ralph Cigich, director of services.

Business Manager Brett Lago said the district has no plans to make any renovations.

Cigich agreed. “The renovations are holding up well,” he said.

Franklin Regional School District spent about $2 million for an artificial surface and extensive renovations to the athletic stadium complex on School Road in Murrysville in 1999.

Renovations to the team room and additional work — including the concession stand and handicap access ramps — cost the district $314,000, while the bleachers contract was for $565,000.

Joseph Yenerall, a sociology professor and director of the Graduate Center for Social and Public Policy at Duquesne University, said sports facilities aregood and bad for communities.

“Sports builds a great deal of community pride, and the school district needs the support and cooperation of parents,” Yenerall said. “On the other hand, if the tax burden becomes too high, families begin to look for other places to live.”

And, he said, senior citizens often resent new facilities.

“It’s a little bit of an age war,” Yenerall said.

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