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Field position turns after events center turf battle

SOLON– Solon sports are in the limelight, especially football. The teams have a target on their backs– everybody wants to take down the Spartans this year.
But that doesn’t explain the field position of the stadium that the four-time state champ football squad will play in next year.
Solon’s proposed Outdoor Events Center (OEC) is looking at a fierce opponent—time. A lack of funds may force the school board into making some tough calls in the next few months.
At a school board meeting on Monday, Sept. 19, the board seated new member Dan Coons, an assistant football coach, and reseated returning board member Dean Martin.
The biggest issue of the night was a vote on a bid for natural grass sod to cover the field at a price of $106,500.
The bid was not approved in a 2-3 vote.
Board members felt the pressure of looming construction deadlines and planned an early morning work session with architecture firm Shive-Hattery on Thursday, Sept 22.
The informational meeting was intended to help flesh out some ideas about saving money on the multi-phased project that is seeking community donations to cover most of the construction costs.
Shive-Hattery, the architecture firm that is working so far without a fee, sent civil engineer Jonathan Fitch and architect Andy Iverson to the meeting. They sketched plans on the fly for a building that will house the concessions, restrooms, storage and team locker rooms. The structure is the most expensive item on the OEC plan but the actual cost remains to be seen because some features, like showers or lockers, may be stubbed in and fully installed later.
At the end of the meeting, Fitch admitted he was “still trying to figure out the overall scope” of the project.
Dean Martin asked the question on everyone’s mind, “What do we consider to be functional for next year?”
Next year is when the grace period for Spartan football will end.
Because of increases in enrollment, Solon moved from Class 2A to 3A competition where the Iowa High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) requires seating for at least 2,000 fans.
IHSAA has no other stadium requirements, but local building codes require a minimum amount of restroom facilities for the 2,000 football fans.
And where will the money for restrooms and a concession stand come from?
In August, OEC Project Fundraiser Steve Duncan gave a report to the school board where he preached patience. “We continue to sit and be patient with [potential donors], which is all you can do,” he said.
He told the board the OEC committee had raised “roughly” $60,000 since Jan. 1 and that, while he remained optimistic in the face of economic hard times, “I’m a little disappointed with the gifts in-kind… but until they see plans it’s tough for contractors” to commit to donating work and services.
The piecemeal condition of the OEC plan disappointed board member Lianne Westcot who complained before voting for the sod bid that she expected a full OEC plan to vote on, not the segmented form the project has taken. “I can’t overstate my frustration with this,” she told the board and administrators.
Before that vote, Coach Kevin Miller made his pitch for artificial turf, an item not on the evening’s agenda. He said his players wanted to play on artificial turf like they had the previous week at Clear Creek Amana.
He also complained that the field they practiced on was worn in places and the probable cause of some soft-tissue injuries for the team, something he was confident would not happen on an artificial surface.
The board discussed another benefit to putting in an artificial surface playing field: the durability for band and soccer practices. The field has limited availability because of the upkeep required for natural grass.
The price tag discussed at the board meeting for artificial turf was around $700,000 and the green carpet is projected to last 10-15 years with little to no maintenance cost.
Superintendent Sam Miller said the board would have to make some decisions soon to place sod and give it time to take root; to decide on bleacher seating numbers; and what to build for housing restrooms, concessions, and team rooms.
He suggested the morning work session with Shive-Hattery to go over their vision of the project and help the board form a plan for the OEC.
The informational meeting had much discussion of where people congregate and play, whether the concessions could face the field, if the building should have one level or two and where to place the student and band sections.
During the informational meeting, board member Dick Schwab cautioned the board, “Today was the fun stuff, design. Once we get to the financial and funding (discussions), it’s not so fun.”
Board president Dave Asprey said the decision-making process should be broken down to determine the number of seats, decide pieces of finished components, press box, bathrooms, team rooms, and the field surface.
Those discussions will continue at board work sessions as they inch closer to different construction deadlines, the most important being the bleacher seating deadline to accommodate the minimum 2,000 for 3A crowds.
On Sept. 19, the board also discussed selling a small parcel of land back to the city. After a public hearing at the next meeting, an area behind the Solon Middle School will be sold to the city for $1. The city plans to put in a playground and will oversee its care and upkeep at a cost savings to the district.
The real estate deal was discussed at a closed session on Sept. 8. The city had previously owned the land and gifted it to the school district 32 years ago. A public hearing will be held at the next regular meeting, Oct. 10, 6 p.m. in the district Central Office.
At the Aug. 8 board meeting, the board approved paying membership dues in the Iowa Association of School Boards. IASB Executive Director Tom Downs and IASB’s Chief Financial Officer Galen Howsare visited the meeting to plead their case for their organization’s services and new leadership.
The motion passed 3-1 with outgoing board member Tim Brown voting against IASB membership.