Fixes to Fred Kelly Stadium are not an option

By Sentry Staff

The  Orange  Unified  School District must spend $21.6 million to make Fred Kelly Stadium compliant  with  the  Americans  with Disabilities  Act  (ADA)  or  risk having to close it down entirely, or face a lawsuit from the U.S Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

The  stadium,  built  in  1969, serves  all  four  high  schools  in the  district. It  is  also  used  for many community events, including Orange’s annual Third of July Celebration  and  the  Foundation Games.

It  does  not  have  the  required ramps, handrails, parking, water fountains and restroom facilities needed to make it accessible to handicapped  individuals.    The OCR brought the deficiencies to the attention of the school district in 2010.  With no funding immediately  available  to  resolve  the accessibility  problems,  OUSD signed  a  resolution  agreement with  OCR  that  contained  a  list of shortcomings that the district would  correct  by  2014. That deadline  was  subsequently  extended to August 2016.

The district has taken steps to comply with the agreement and has  provided  accessible  parking and passenger loading zones, installed  some  accessible  ticket booths,  and  altered  the  path  of travel in several locations. However,  major  structural  modifications are required to be complete before full compliance is approved by OCR.

In addition to ADA access issues, Fred Kelly Stadium  suffers  from  inadequate  restrooms, plumbing,  electric  power,  and visitor  facilities  and  bleachers that  are  47  years  old.  In  2014, the district conducted a community  review  of  the  facility  that identified  a  litany  of  concerns.  Among them: the field had just one entrance; there is only one restroom (on the home team side); poor lighting,  inferior  sound; and  the  press  box  is  accessible only by climbing a ladder. The “field house” is really the snack bar storage building; there are no dedicated locker rooms (athletes must use El Modena’s facilities); the snack bar looks like “a holding cell;” coaches can’t  always get radio signals for communication; and the scoreboard was installed in the 1980s.

In 2005, the field was replaced with artificial turf, and the track resurfaced.    Now  11  years  old, those  improvements  have  exceeded  their  eight-year  life  expectancy.

As the district is required to invest in the stadium to meet ADA standards, it explored options for making broader upgrades at the same  time. Since  the  stadium was built, the state has expanded its  safety  requirements  and  age has taken a toll.  An architect was hired  to  develop  concept  plans and  identify  costs  for  a  master plan  that  would  address  OCR requirements  --  and  then  some.  The  overall  concept  includes new team rooms, a 1,700-visitor grandstand, 3,300-seat bleachers for the home team and new visitor concessions, all ADA accessible.

The cost to meet OCR requirements  alone  is  $21,671,210  Adding  in  fixes  for  age-related shortcomings (lighting, track and field, adding another team room) is  $24,079,910.    Incorporating such options as a new scoreboard, shade  canopies  and  building  an adjacent field for practice would run $25,743,000.

Funding options for the project include  developer  fee  accounts, mandated  costs  being  refunded by the state, private donors or a general obligation bond.

Other than agreeing that OCR requirements have to be met, the OUSD Board of Trustees has not determined  what  happens  next. It  acknowledges  that  spending money on a sports stadium while promoting a bond measure for educational facilities sends a mixed message to voters. The board expects to have more detailed plans and  funding  alternatives  identified this fall.

Ed Howard, the district’s newly named Administrative Director of Activities, Athletics  and  School Connectiveness, described  Fred Kelly  Stadium  as  “a  classroom with  neverending  lessons  that have  a  lasting  impact  on  the community.” He also notes that despite the sorry state of the stadium, “OUSD is not producing an inferior product.  Our high school teams are champions.”