By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (August 24 ,2017) — Stephenville ISD trustees Scott Osman and Cole Gilliam Parks each say they appreciate the longstanding partnership the district has with Tarleton State University, specifically pertaining to the district’s use of facilities like Memorial Stadium.
But that appreciation isn’t enough, it appears, for either trustee to vote in favor of Stephenville ISD paying $655,000 for the Yellow Jackets to have their own locker room constructed when the $24 million facelift to the facility continues in 2018.
“I’m a no, for sure. There is no way I can justify spending $655,000 on this, knowing the costs we are looking at for our own renovations,” says Cole Parks, who has been outspoken recently concerning what he perceives as overspending by SISD.
“The money Tarleton is asking for to build this locker room is almost half the allocation SISD needs to service the debt required for our upcoming renovations without raising taxes,” said Parks, a financial adviser of the executive office level with Southwestern Enterprises. “We have to be good stewards of the district’s money.”
Osman, a local attorney who serves as vice president of the school board, put his foot down, too, saying he would “never vote in favor of spending that kind of money for a capital improvement on land the district does not own.”
Even with the passing of salary raises — at 2 percent of the midpoint on all non-teaching staff and 2.2 percent for teachers – followed by a pubic hearing concerning the district’s proposed 2017-18 budget, term limits for trustees and possibly live streaming school board meetings, it was the price of locker room construction that stirred the pot in the regular meeting at Bond Auditorium.
Tarleton athletic director Lonn Reisman and others were present on behalf of the university, but their ability to negotiate costs and plans are limited, if not altogether tied, by the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents, who gave stadium reconstruction the green light as part of a larger $162.7 million capital construction plan at the growing Stephenville campus attended by the vast majority of the university’s 13,000-plus students, even with secondary campuses in Fort Worth, Midlothian and Waco.
SISD superintendent Matt Underwood says he wanted to move forward with SISD paying for the locker room, but carefully so.
“As superintendent, I was hoping we would pay for a portion of it then reach a longterm agreement for the rest at a fixed rate. But the way the way the discussion was going, I didn’t want to make that motion,” Underwood explained. “If I make that motion without the support of the board, we risk putting Tarleton in an awkward situation, and that’s not want any of us wanted.”
That, they all agree on.
“I know SISD certainly appreciates its longstanding partnership with Tarleton, and the community does get value from the district’s use of university facilities, especially the stadium,” said Osman.
Parks added, “We want to work positively with Tarleton and with the Texas A&M University System in any way we possibly can. They are a great resource for the district and for the community.”
Just not at this price. And not for a locker room that is not on school district property and at is used, at most, only five months of the year.
Stephenville pays a sum of $85,750 per year to use the stadium and other facilities, an agreement that has long been reinstated every two years with no change in cost, something else that could change with the renovations.
“The bottom line is construction costs are crazy today. I’m bracing myself for that with the high school renovations we’re looking at,” said Underwood. “We will probably discuss (the locker room) again in closed session as real estate transaction talk after we’ve all had some time to stop and think about it.”
They have had 15 months to think about it already, as trustees were first shown a graphic of costs during a regular meeting in May, 2016. Two plans were displayed, one with 1,700 net assignable square feet (an area of 2,268 total sqf) totaling close to $600K, th other with 2,300 net assignable square feet (an area of 3,068 total sqf) for very close to $80OK. Both totals were based on $200 per square foot.
Stadium renovations go on regardless, and will include at least three locker rooms. Also included is a new competition track, new lighting, the reconstruction of bleachers so the west side facing east – away from the evening sun – will become the home side, a new press box on the west side, a President’s suite, VIP guest areas and more.
“It doesn’t make any sense, economically for us to build our own stadium, just to be clear. I certainly don’t want to see us go that route because at the end of the day, it makes financial sense to use their stadium and partnering with Tarleton is good for everyone involved,” said Parks. “But if the understanding was that this needed to be approved for us to be a continued partner with them, then we have failed on our end because we can not afford to give them $655,000 right now. We just can’t.”