By Tina Richards

Long overdue renovations to Fred Kelly Stadium and improvements to the practice fields and tracks at three high schools inched toward fruition, with a unanimous vote by the OUSD Board of Trustees to “move forward” on those projects, April 12.

Fred Kelly Stadium has been cited for non-ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance by the federal government, and been threatened with closure if OUSD does not correct the deficiencies. The district has been granted several extensions to complete the work, with the next deadline looming on August 31.  

OUSD believes that taking preliminary steps to start the work before that date will demonstrate good faith and buy more time from the Office of Civil Rights.  The stadium will ultimately be demolished and rebuilt with new ADA-compliant grandstands, restrooms and concessions, as well as a new press box.  The work is expected to take 15 months.

A place to play
During that time, however, the four high schools that share the facility will be unable to host home games at that location, and El Modena athletes will be unable to use it for practice.  Because the athletic fields at Orange, Canyon, Villa Park and ElMo are in substandard condition, the board was asked to green-light improvements to the practice grounds at those schools, prior to the demolition of Fred Kelly Stadium. 

At the March board meeting, Director of Student and Community Services Ed Howard gave a presentation supporting the renovation of the fields at all four schools. The board directed district staff to explore the costs and come back with numbers at its next meeting.  When Assistant Superintendent for Facilities Ron Lebs presented the costs at the April 12 meeting, El Modena was not included. 

Ed Howard explains: At the end of these projects, Villa Park, Canyon and Orange will have a fully functioning track and field. El Modena’s will be Kelly Stadium. Each school will have a synthetic field for lower-level football games, all soccer games, and lacrosse. All OUSD high schools will have a track to hold home meets.   While Kelly is being renovated, El Modena will be able to use the other schools’ fields, much like the other schools have used Kelly to get a practice or game in on a quality field.

Field of dreams
Lebs recommended that artificial turf be installed on all fields because it is easier to maintain.  It does not need irrigation or mowing, reduces injuries, discourages rodents from digging holes, and has a 10 to 15-year lifespan. Lebs also noted that synthetic turf needs to be professionally engineering and installed, the ground must be leveled and, because state review is required, access to the fields, restrooms and parking areas must be ADA compliant.  He estimated the cost for all three schools would be $7.5 to $10 million, with approximately 20 percent of that targeted to meet state requirements.

A number of parents, coaches and students attended the school board meeting to support the field improvements. Many noted that athletes suffered injuries from the uneven ground, gopher holes, unstable sand, mud and anthills.  Others noted that the fields were used by marching bands, cheer squads and physical education classes, not just sports teams.  One student reported that not everyone could attend games at Fred Kelly, suggesting that having games on the home field would increase school spirit.  A parent advised that OUSD was losing enrollment due to inadequate fields.  All agreed that the prospect of new fields had sparked excitement among students and the community.

The board’s initial enthusiastic response to high school field improvements was tempered somewhat by the reality of doing so.  Trustee Rick Ledesma was appalled at the price tag; Kathy Moffat was concerned that the board was approving fixes without first establishing priorities.

“I believe you came back to us with an overpriced project,” Ledesma told Lebs.  “I have a real dilemma between athletes and taxpayers. We need to cut back.  Sharpen your pencil and reduce costs by 10 to 15 percent.”

On or off track?
“I know sports are important,” Moffat said,  “and I know there is a crying need for this.  But rehabilitating fields will take a lot of money. As a board member, I have a responsibility to all students, the whole community.  We also need to fix gyms, broken pipes, restrooms.  We need a facilities master plan, and to let the community participate in it before committing to this expense.”

“We did an assessment in 2004 and it’s sitting in an office somewhere,” Tim Surridge advised.  “We should move forward. We are the district that’s behind. The curb appeal aspect can’t be overstated, and liability is also an issue. We have to do something.”

 “A lot of our students are in track and field,” Andrea Yamasaki pointed out.  “Injuries are devastating.  Safety is paramount.”

“We’ve won two CIF championships,” Brenda Leback enthused.  “This is the time to do it.”

Alexia Deligianni-Brydges asked for confirmation that the board was not committing to any expense at that time, just moving forward on the cost analysis.  “Can we change our minds?” she asked.

Just say “go”
“Let’s just do it,” John Ortega pronounced.  

The resulting vote was, despite cost and planning concerns, unanimous.  The designs for Fred Kelly Stadium have been approved by the state, and are ready to go.  Its $24,471,820 cost will be covered by developer fees.  The vote allows the process of “coordinating” construction to begin. 

The district also has funds to cover the field rehabilitation without taking money away from its $4 million maintenance budget or using Measure S funds, which are earmarked exclusively for science buildings and related upgrades. 

Kathy Moffat asked that a strategic planning process be agendized for the next meeting. 

Kelly Stadium, OUSD field renovations inch forward