(Originally published in the 10/18/15 edition)
A presentation on a proposed new design for the upper stadium at Benicia High School prompted much discussion and disagreement at the Benicia Unified School District’s board meeting Thursday night.
The renovated stadium is another project to be funded through Measure S funds. Measure S was approved by voters in June 2014 to provide $49.6 million in bond funding to be spent on facilities at BUSD schools. Projects have included renovated elementary school playgrounds and the repainting of Benicia High School.
To help the stadium reach its goal, construction will be done by Verde Design out of Santa Clara. That company’s owner, Derek McKee, delivered a presentation on what the new upper field would look like.
The remodeled stadium would feature an all-weather track, bleachers that would fit up to 3,300 people instead of the current 1,960 and a modern sign welcoming “Panthers.” The total cost would be over $8.9 million. If approved, the construction would take place between June and October, 2016, with the overall completion scheduled for Oct. 24 of that year.
One design element that hadn’t been decided on was the choice to use natural or synthetic turf. Ralph Caputo of the construction management service RGM & Associates gave a presentation on the advantages and disadvantages of each.
The overall presentation sparked a healthy amount of debate from board members and citizens alike. Trustee Peter Morgan raised concerns about graduation chairs on the new footing.
“Let’s just include chairs in the costs so we can pay for it through the bond money versus realizing that we need to buy other stuff to use it,” he said.
Morgan also expressed concern about the safety of synthetic turf, noting that when women play soccer on synthetic turf, they suffer a far higher rate of injuries than men who play on natural turf.
“Our first obligation is not to make the field available for play,” he said, “The first and foremost obligation is the safety of these children.”
Trustee Gary Wing assured that they would be using natural rubber and not shredded tires for the synthetic turf.
“We need a field that isn’t half dirt by the second game of the season,” he said
Trustee Andre Stewart questioned why the field was receiving the highest priority over other aging sports facilities on campus.
“We’re looking at the football field, but I know the basketball court is not padded and we’ve talked in the past about tennis courts,” he said. “Is there a way to do all this at one time?”
Chief Business Official Tim Rahill said that Geotech will be doing soil samples around the tennis courts and gym where the basketball court is at some point.
“At some point we’re going to address those areas,” he said. “The magnitude of the upper track and field is greater.”
Mary Beyer, a Benicia resident whose children are both student athletes, took to the podium to voice her concerns about the stadium renovation making up a more sizable portion of the bond than necessary.
“There has to be some money for the school and education and not just a stadium,” she said. “That is not what I agreed to when I voted yes for the bond.”
Craig Holden, Benicia High’s athletic director and head football coach, shared others’ views that the gym floor and tennis courts were in need of repair, but he also felt the stadium was the showcase project at the moment.
“I want to make sure that things are done right,” he said. “If we jump out there and do 14 different projects at one time, then it slows everything down and I have no place to put those different sports programs. As athletic director, I’m looking at the big picture.”
The item will be brought before the board again at the Nov. 5 meeting, where it will be voted on.
In other business, the four principals of Benicia’s elementary schools presented their Single Plan for Student Achievement goals which were unanimously approved by the board.