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.”