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OEC forum was last chance for community input

SOLON- The Solon school board’s plan for an Outdoor Events Center (OEC) is in the red zone and on Nov. 10, members of the community had their chance to weigh in before the board finalizes a design and opens construction bids.
The district hosted a public forum to discuss the OEC project last Thursday at the Solon High School media center. The new facility will host the district’s track and football games, and provide space for other activities like marching band.
At the start of the public discussion on the OEC, Solon Superintendent Sam Miller spoke for a few minutes about the school board’s involvement in the Solon Outdoor Events Center and some of the amenities discussed during work sessions.
“The board has been very engaged the last two-plus months and I think it’s been apparent that they may not appreciate how we got to this point, but understand that we’ve got to try to make this investment functional for our students,” he said.
Members of the board have repeatedly said that functionality has been the focus of their discussions on the OEC plan.
To play home football games at the Class 3A level, the OEC needs a minimum seating capacity of 2,000. The only other requirement, by building code, is to provide restroom facilities for fans.
“We can have architects give us cost estimates, but really until you get to the bidding phase, I’ve seen projects get delayed or postponed,” Miller said. “Until those bids actually come back in, I don’t think any of us can say for a fact what may or may not get done.”
While much of the OEC project has been all but decided, including the press box, bleachers, and concessions, the separate team room buildings are still a sticking point for the board.
“I think what we’re hearing from our coaches is that team rooms are important,” Schwab said.
The team room buildings have been an option for future construction on the plans from Shive-Hattery.
“That’s a big question, whether the district can fund the team rooms or whether we can get private funds,” Schwab said, adding, “We’ve got one shot.” Potential donors had told him, “Do whatever you’re going to do now and don’t come back again” to ask for more money.
Coons said there is a storage component to the team room buildings that has been overlooked. The buildings could be used for track and football gear. He noted the track team’s high jump pits are currently stored in the school hallways.
Team room buildings would also have room for officials to confer during halftime and store personal items.
On the separated home and visitor side concession and restroom buildings, Asprey explained that the early design of a single concessions and restroom building edged into the high school’s footprint and plans for potential future expansion. “We’ve been a growing district,” he said, and the high school may need the space where the single entrance, concessions and restroom building was located.
Several board members also noted the separated concession stands would be more accessible for handicapped fans.
Board member Dean Martin called it a long trip from the visitor’s side bleachers to use the home side restrooms.
Asprey also said the visitor’s concession window might be closed for non-football events to save cleanup and energy costs.
Board member Dan Coons said, “If you make it a football complex then you only get to use it a certain number of times a year. We’re really trying to make an outdoor events center which puts a lot more people on the field.
“I understand the public’s concern that, ‘Will this end up being a football complex again?’ It really is not our intent that it becomes that; it’s really a facility,” Coons said.
The board is leaning toward artificial turf for the playing surface, having voted down a bid for natural grass, 3-2, at a Sept. 19 meeting.
Since then, discussions have begun on artificial turf with one architectural firm, but a final decision about playing surface has not been made.
Either surface would have limited usage because natural grass is costly to maintain and artificial turf has a limited lifespan.
Calling artificial turf the elephant in the room, Coons asked, “If it’s turf, how that’s handled? Certain organic things can’t go on it, that has to be monitored. How are we going to do that?”
Coons also noted the “bad feelings about money that’s been collected in the past for bathrooms at the Spartan Stadium” in the community. He said there were past issues with “the public being promised things that they didn’t actually receive.
“I think we have to be very upfront with what we really foresee this facility being used as; what the public would use it as, and what the school would use it as.”
A plan for field use is still to be determined.
“I wish I could sit here right now and tell you exactly who could use it and who couldn’t,” Martin said. He said a turf-use policy would likely be developed by the board over the winter to see if there would be any restrictions.
The district is looking at how other schools have handled field use in terms of fees, permission and liability, reported Superintendent Miller. “We want community use, but we’re not going to have unlimited use,” he said.
Community member Lisa Brokaw said she went to the first planning meetings for the facility, and was “thrilled with the teams we have in this town,” but wondered if the district is heading in the right direction. She had some major concerns about the project, she told the board.
“People haven’t donated like I thought,” Brokaw noted.
Community member Karen Sherman asked the board a big picture question: “What’s left to be decided?”
“The board has not committed to anything other than designs, but we are marching fast toward if we’re going to be able to use that field anytime next year,” board member Dick Schwab explained.
“We have to decide what we’re going to do and get the bids out and let the contracts shortly, within two months,” he said, “This is sort of the last chance for the board to hear what you have to say.”
Sherman and community member Brian Fitzpatrick asked about the money to be spent on the OEC, which the district has indicated will come from SAVE (Secure an Advanced Vision for Education) funds.
The district can only bond up to 70 percent of what’s available to them in SAVE funds, Miller noted, and the terms for a bond to finance the project have not been determined.
“What we choose to put money towards then potentially keeps you from spending it in other areas,” Asprey said, “If we spend money on the Outdoor Events Center we don’t have it for an auditorium.”
The high school auditorium has been identified as being next in line for district capital improvements.
Miller reported that architectural firm Shive-Hattery did not recommend updates to the current auditorium, but suggested a new auditorium would be a smarter expenditure.
Miller anticipated the auditorium update would be on the district’s long-range strategic plan, but SAVE funds would likely not be available for about 10 years.
Miller also said there is substantial support from staff for a new auditorium and floated the idea of the school board going to the community and asking voters to fund auditorium construction with a small levy.
Community member Carol Vance asked about the effects of the OEC planned spring construction on the Solon track teams.
Miller said he thought that 2012 track practice would not be interrupted, but hosting varsity meets would be unlikely for the spring sport. The OEC is expected to be completed by 2013.
Without a press box to house a timing system for meets, he said, “that’s a challenge for us.”
When the district asks for bids, track team access will be reserved to allow practices, but not home meets.
Near the end of the meeting, Solon mayor-elect Cami Rasmussen put a positive face on the labored and fast-tracked OEC plan. “This is going to change the face of Solon,” she said.