Sunday, November 8, 2015

School board approves draft design for Benicia High School stadium

(Originally published in the 11/8/15 edition)

   The Governing Board of the Benicia Unified School District voted to approve the draft schematic design for Benicia High School’s renovated stadium at Thursday’s board meeting. As with the Oct. 15 meeting, the project prompted much scrutiny from the board’s trustees.
   The stadium, which will primarily be used for football and soccer games, is one of the next major projects to be financed through Measure S funds. Measure S was put forward to provide $49.6 million in bond funding to be spent on facilities at Benicia schools, including fixing the roof at Benicia Middle School and renovating the elementary school playgrounds. The initiative was approved by voters in June 2014.
   Chief Business Official Tim Rahill delivered a Power Point presentation on what the new stadium would consist of and responded to questions from the previous meeting. The renovated stadium will feature an all-weather track, new synthetic turf, new bleachers that would support 3,300 spectators- both home and visitor guests- and new bathrooms that will be moved to the renovated main entrance along with the concession stand. The estimated preliminary cost would be $8.9 million.
   Rahill also responded to inquiries from the previous meeting over what material would be used for the synthetic turf and what else the new field would be used for. He assured that the infill material would be cork or something similar, and the field would also be used for the annual elementary track meet, two annual walk-a-thons, five Benicia Youth Football home games and Benicia High’s graduation. 
   Trustee Peter Morgan expressed gratitude to Rahill for answering some of the questions from the previous meeting but expressed frustration over the project.
   “The fact that we’re put in this position to vote on this tonight ahead of the Facility Master Plan means we’re having to take it on faith that we’re making the right allocation, because we don’t know,” he said.
   “This is the first large project that we’ve gotten an estimate for, and we’ve not yet gotten a real estimate as to what the other things will cost,” he added. “I would hope in the future we do better planning.” 
   Trustee Andre Stewart questioned the necessity to nearly double the amount of seats from 1,960 to 3,300. Trustee Gary Wing said they would seat more people during graduation and cut down on the cost of renting chairs.
   “In consultation with the high school, one of the goals was to provide seats for all participants who come to different athletic events, especially football,” Rahill added. “Right now, there’s a huge ‘standing room only’ by the concession and existing bathrooms. Part of the idea to move the concessions and bathrooms to the main entrance is to move the population out of that area and into the stands so there’s a little bit more crowd control.”
   Trustee Diane Ferrucci also expressed frustration over the timing of the project.
   “The fact that we’re now having this discussion, I’m finding it very uncomfortable,” she said. “I feel in some way we’re being dishonest. This conversation should have happened when we were all concerned about the price tag in November when we approved going forward.”
   Ferrucci also warned the board about potential inflation, which could drive costs for Measure S projects up.
   “The price that you got in 2013 is not going to happen in 2018,” she said. “I think that’s something we need to consider.”
   Morgan agreed that the project should move on, but he also suggested that if the project reaches a point where it isn’t feasible, it should be ended.
   “I do feel like our hands are tied and we should go forward, but I do think we should have a point where  we should kill the project,” he said. “If we get to a point where as a board, we look at the Facility Master Plan and realize we’ve made a mistake, we should have the ability to stop this project.”
   Ultimately, all board members voted to move forward with the project. In the next month, documents will be prepared to be submitted to the Division of the State Architect in January. The board will vote to approve the Facilty Master Plan in February, and the project will be scheduled to be completed in October, 2016.
   In other business, the board highlighted some of the recent achievements of the Benicia Middle School band under the direction of Glenn Walp. The include earning second place in concert at the Foothill Band Review in Pleasanton on Oct. 24 and first place in parade competition and percussion at the Santa Cruz Band Review on Oct. 17.


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