By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (September 18, 2017) — Approximately $960,000 over six years, plus more than $100,000 per year moving forward – hypothetically – is a lot of money for the use of a football stadium and other athletic facilities as need and availability align accordingly.
But it’s a lot less than the $12 million plus it would take to upgrade Lem Brock Field to a facility worthy of being the home of Yellow Jacket football, in addition to its many other uses.
That was the fact that kept resurfacing as Stephenville ISD trustees approved, in a 4-2 vote, to approve $327,500 for the construction of a locker room at Memorial Stadium and $100,000 plus an annually-increasing CPI rate to continue the district’s longstanding facilities use agreement with the athletics department at Tarleton State University.
Tarleton originally approached Stephenville about 16 months ago, asking the district to fund the full cost of $655,000 for a locker room, but when the item reached the point of needing approval, there was resistance from board members and concerns voiced by some in the community.
Tarleton President Dr. F. Dominic Dottavio permitted Reisman to offer a 50-50 split cutting the cost to the district for the locker room to the now-finalized $327,500.
“I’ve lived here 30 years. My kids graduated from Stephenville High School,” said Reisman, who addressed the board following three community members voicing their opposition. “I’m speaking as both a community member who cares very much about Stephenville High School and as an administrator at Tarleton. We’ve had a great working relationship for many years. Many young men have grown up looking forward to the day they get to run out on that field and play at Tarleton’s stadium with the Yellow Jackets. Now that we’re about to put in a big-time stadium and do something magical that will benefit the entire community, I would hate for something to ruin or sever that relationship.”
Sha King spoke against the matter during the public comments phase of the regular monthly meeting at Bond Auditorium, saying he would rather see the more than $300,000 for the locker room be spent on something benefiting all students. Later, when trustees arrived at the item on their agenda, trustee and retired SHS teacher and Stingerette dance team sponsor Sherrie Evans countered that point, saying trustees and members of the district’s facilities planning committee have invested a great deal of time into preparing for a bond election in an effort to provide new or upgraded facilities that will benefit many students, not just a select few, citing the plan for a new auditorium, gymnasium, dressing facilities and more they hope voters will soon approve.
But it was the same hypothetical bond election and the increased levy of property taxes the distort would ask voters to approve – likely as soon as next May – that trustees Cole Gilliam Parks and Scott Osman could not look past.
Parks reminded fellow trustees, as he has on a number of costly recent commitments made by the board – for example, IBM Watson as the district’s classroom management system and a commitment Monday of $600,000 toward future technology needs – that such spending was only increasing how much more they will ultimately have to ask from taxpayers.
Osman agreed and also stood firm in his opposition to investing money in a capital improvement to land the district does not own.
But trustee Gary Sult reminded other board members and those in attendance that the annual cost – $87,750 currently, but increasing to $100,000 plus the annual CPI rate beginning August 1, 2018 – is “turnkey,” and every dollar that comes into a venue during a school district event belongs to the school district or to the student organization or support group that raises it there through ticket and program sales, concessions, supper fundraisers and more.
“It’s basically a zero net cost,” Sult reminded them, and why he emphasized he is aware there will be some cost with the increase in price, he considered it minimal.
Dr. Ed Dittfurth, a pastor and visiting business and ethics professor at Tarleton first had his right to second the approval of the matter questioned because of his relationship with Tarleton. Board president Dr. Ann Calahan was also asked if she felt she should excuse herself from discussing the matter, but she stated she is not a university-wide administrator and would not benefit personally or professionally by approving the matter. Dittfurth felt the same, and both spoke concerning the issue before Dittfurth voted for approval.
Allowed to speak, Dittfurth drove home one final point – the stadium Stephenville is currently paying to use is “not apples to apples; in fact, it’s not even apples to oranges, with what they are building. It’s going to be the type of stadium you see on TV on Saturdays.”
Dittfurth was joined by Sult, Evans and Kerri Vanden Berge in voting to approve the locker room and new facility usage agreement, while Osman and Parks stood firm and voted in opposition of the matter.
“I just don’t see this as being good steward’s of the taxpayers’ money,” said Osman, though he and Parks did concede the point all trustees and superintendent Matt Underwood agreed on – the cost of building a stadium or even just renovating and upgrading Lem Brock Field, was entirely out of the question.
“At some point, we are going to have to answer to the taxpayers we’ll be asking more money from,” Parks said. “But I do appreciate our relationship with Tarleton and I do believe we should continue to use their facility. Building our own stadium just doesn’t make any sense. There’s just no way we can afford it.”