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Proposals for new athletic complex unveiled at hearing

CHESAPEAKE — Next fall the Chesapeake Panthers could have a new football field to play on, if the school board votes in the next few weeks to build a new athletic complex.

At a public hearing Monday evening at the high school the board of education, along with an audience of approximately 75 members of the community, heard three proposals that Mark Tanner, a Portsmouth-based architect, presented that ranged from major renovations to a complete overhaul. The price tag for the three options ran from $2.4 million to just over $2.8 million.

The hearing was required because the board, if it decides to go ahead with any renovation of the football field and track, has stated it would move 2 mills from its current operating expenses to permanent improvement to partially fund the project.

“The board was presented about two years ago with the problem that the track facility was in need of repair,” Mike Dyer, board president, told the audience.

There is a significant drainage problem at the field and antiquated bleachers beside a track that was condemned last school year. Heavy rains also flood the weight room; the sprinkler system has rusted valves and the light system has major deficiencies.

“We, as a board, want to hear what the public has to say,” Dyer said. “We want to do what is in the best interest (of the students). We can work through this together.”

All three of Tanner’s proposals would move the track and football field away from the highway to allow for proper drainage.

“A new drainage system would protect the new track and the new football field,” Tanner said.

The first option would keep the six-lane track while demolishing the current field house. That would be replaced with a 4,000-square foot structure that would house lockers, coaches’ offices and a training facility. There would be a 60-foot press box and both visitors and home bleachers would be on the same side. That proposal would cost just over $2.4 million.

Option 2 “is slightly different, not drastically,” Tanner said.

Bleachers would remain on one side, but there would be an eight-lane track. There would also be restrooms, a concession stand and a ticket booth. Cost for that would be $2.7 million.

The third option would offer a six-lane track and put visitors and home bleachers on opposite sides of the field. Cost for that would be just over $2.8 million.

Besides moving the millage out of the general fund, cost for the renovations would be partially funded from an overage of $475,000 when the bond issue for building the new high school was retired.

Superintendent Dr. Scott Howard also said the district would apply for a scrap tire grant that could pay up to 50 percent of the track as well as use contributions from a new community-based foundation.

By moving the millage to permanent improvements, taxpayers in the district would pay on average $15 annually on property with a market value of $50,000; $30 annually on property with a market value of $100,000; and $61 for property worth $200,000.

Of the approximately 30 residents who spoke at the hearing, only four did not express strong support for some version of the renovation.

“I am all for the football complex, no matter the cost,” Jon Barker said. “It is all about the kids, the future. Have a vision that is big enough to follow.”

Lisa Saunders said often other districts are critical of the condition of the Chesapeake field.

“I don’t want people to be ashamed when (they) have to play Chesapeake,” she said. “Why would we not want to do it. It is the right thing.”

However Carol Black said the school board must consider the fixed income of the retirees in the community.

“You need to consider people who have trouble paying their property tax,” she said. “Our taxes are going up. Sports are fine but education should come first.”

Richard Wilson said he was speaking for the segment of the community who did not currently have children in the school district.

“One thing that concerns me is the siphoning off of millage from the operating system,” Wilson said. “We have a commitment to the children, but the community is not thriving. We have to look with a little more watchful eye. … I am very disappointed with administrators in the school system that our facility has been allowed to deteriorate. Things should have been maintained.”

The board will meet at a later date to decide how it wants to proceed with the possibility of renovations.