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Fisher: Fate of new athletic complex faces ‘pivotal moment’ at Monday’s board meeting

  • The football practice field by Comet Stadium could be a new softball field by the 2020 season, depending on how the school board votes Monday. (Press photo James Grob.)

  • The football practice field by Comet Stadium could be a new softball field by the 2020 season, depending on how the school board votes Monday. (Press photo James Grob.)

  • The football practice field by Comet Stadium could be a new softball field by the 2020 season, depending on how the school board votes Monday. (Press photo James Grob.)

By James Grob,

Monday’s meeting of the Charles City Community School District Board of Education could be a big one for the future of softball and baseball in Charles City.

A school board decision could determine when and where the teams will be playing, as early as the 2020 season.

Board members will vote to either deny or “approve the location change of the baseball/softball complex to the 5-12 campus, and to provide all necessary district resources to ensure completion for playing by spring of 2020,” according the the meeting’s agenda.

Charles City Superintendent Mike Fisher has recommended the board approve the new site.

“The $1.5 million at Shadow Avenue was without any amenities, whereas here we have a completed field,” Fisher said. “The board would like to begin moving dirt, at either field, by July 1.”

Fisher said he’s spent a lot of time getting quotes and estimates from engineers and architects, then crunched all the numbers and shared the information with the board.

“We did a lot of due diligence,” he said. “We went through a lot of numbers and had a long debate and discussion about the merits of both, and the pros and cons of each different site.”

Fisher said the overwhelming majority of the senior leadership team, the board committee, the parent task force and athletic complex task force said the plan needed to be discussed.

“Over the years, there have been four or five alternate plans offered out by different people in the community,” Fisher said Thursday.  “I dove into all of those, and most of them had fatal flaws, and just weren’t possible.

“But there was one plan that was proposed by a teacher-leader several years ago that was kind of on the back burner. We took that plan and ran it by (Buildings and Grounds Director) Jerry Mitchell, by (Athletic Director) Todd Forsyth, by our complex committee — through all those discussions and debate, there now lies the plan,” Fisher said.

The two locations now being considered for the athletic complex are land purchased by the district north of town, and the space between the high school and the football field.

The board discussed the locations at the March 18 board meeting and at a work session  Thursday morning.

Currently, the diamonds at Sportsmen’s Park are the home of Charles City High School’s baseball and softball teams. According to the school district, more than 200 baseball and softball games have either been canceled or moved to an away location in the last eight years because of flooding at the location.

In April 2017, the Charles City School District purchased 20 acres for a sports complex along Shadow Avenue, north of Sportsmen’s Park and outside of the floodplain. The site is just north of Washington Elementary.

Since that time, a committee of coaches, directors and local business leaders has been raising funds through pledges, donations and grants to build the complex. The proposed project is for the construction of one natural grass softball field and one synthetic turf baseball infield with a natural grass baseball outfield and a parking lot.

“The Shadow Avenue plan was always our official plan, but I always have a back-up plan,” Fisher said. “What happened is, we realized that the back-up plan might have some advantages, fiscally and timeline-wise.”

Head varsity softball coach Brian Bohlen and assistant coach Dana Sullivan presented the board with the new proposal at the board meeting Monday. They suggested a 5-12 complex that includes a softball and baseball diamond and would sit on the high school/middle school campus along Comet Drive.

The softball field would be located between the high school parking lot and the football field, at the location of the football practice field, while the baseball field would be cupped over where Comet Drive now curves on the way to the transportation center.

Fisher has spent much of this week breaking down the costs of both locations. He told the board at the work session Thursday that the total estimated cost of the fields at the Shadow Avenue location would range from $2.5 million at the low end to $3.1 million at the high end.

The total costs of the new location, referred to as the “5-12” location for the grades 5 to 12 at the middle school and high school, would be just under $1.8 million dollars.

At the Shadow Avenue location, $2.5 million would be for competed fields with a gravel parking lot, and a steel building for concession stands, and little more. The fields themselves would cost $1.5 million.

The cost of the parking lot would range from $285,000 for a simple gravel lot to as much as $462,000 for a paved lot. Concession stands and restrooms would cost from around $150,000 for basic steel buildings to as much as $450,000 for well-constructed buildings.

Add $275,000 for drinking water and irrigation, $95,000 for electrical, $35,000 for batting cages, as much as $153,000 for plaza/entrances, $38,000 for a septic system and possibly additional money for drainage work by the county.

The entire project at Shadow Avenue would take anywhere from nine months to as long as 3-5 years, depending on how complete a sports complex the district wants to build.

“The thing that the board really committed to is, they want a turnkey facility,” Fisher said. ”They don’t want to do porta-potties and lawn chairs for a year. They are committed to providing a complete facility.”

Baseball and softball fields at the high school location would include dugouts, fencing, sod, bleachers with paving, scoreboards and mass grading and tree removal at a cost of just over $1.3 million.

“The reason for the cost of the fields being higher at the Shadow location is $200,000 of additional mass grading that wouldn’t need to be done at the school site,” said Fisher, who added that additional expenses at the 5-12 location would include $38,000 for tree clearing and a retaining wall.

Design work at the 5-12 site would cost an estimated $77,000, moving the utility hookups would cost $25,000, adjustments to Comet Drive to make room would cost just under $250,000. Work could start July 1 of this year and the fields would be completed in time to start the 2020 season, Fisher said.

“The board has said they are committed to provide the resources necessary to back up whatever decision is made to get this complex finished,” Fisher said. “We are in the running for quite a few grants right now, and they all require us to have some timelines and clear direction, and so we realize this is a pivotal moment for the athletic complex.”

As far as where the football practice field would be, should the softball field be built on that site, Fisher said the district is looking into some adjacent land currently owned by the city that might be able to be turned into a football practice field.

Fisher said he is also looking into a lighting lease, not just for the new fields, but also to replace the lighting at the football field.

“We’ve committed to using some budget money from other funding throughout the next 10 years, and replacing the lights at the football field and doing the lights on the baseball and softball fields all in one shot,” Fisher said.

The cost to the district would be $97,000 to lease the lighting, which would be paid through the annual PPEL budget. The lease would be for top-of-the-line LED lighting. Purchasing lighting for the two fields would cost approximately $370,000 for standard lighting and as much as $500,000 for LED lighting, according to estimates Fisher acquired.

“Ultimately, the board makes the final decision,” Fisher said. “As a superintendent, I have a moral and ethical responsibility. If I know something that meets our mission and values, I need to bring it to the board. Also, I have a fiduciary responsibility. If there’s something that I happen to see that can be a significant cost savings, I have a duty to the taxpayers to make sure I put those in front of our elected body.”