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El Dorado Works views Memorial Stadium proposal

Posted on June 23, 2016

Published by El Dorado News Times

By Tia Lyons

Staff Writer

EL DORADO — A proposal for economic development funding to assist with improvements to Memorial Stadium has been placed on hold pending further review by the El Dorado Works Board.

During an EWB meeting on Tuesday, state Rep. Matthew Shepherd, representing the El Dorado School District, presented a funding request of $432,000 to help cover the costs of a new track, press box and fencing for the stadium.

The stadium is owned by the city and used and maintained by the school district in a long-term lease agreement with the city — as is the TAC House.

Work has already begun on the track, Shepherd said, noting there is a small window of opportunity between the high-school graduation ceremony and the beginning of summer football practice.

After some discussion, two board members expressed concern about using tax dollars to upgrade the press box on the west side of the stadium.

Board member Greg Downum said he fully supported the new track because numerous citizens use it each day.

“Public use is what I’m thinking about. I’m struggling with the press box aspect because it seems more narrowly focused, and it’s the largest line item,” Downum said.

Board member Alison Abson made similar statements, referring to comments Shepherd made about future plans to improve restrooms and locker rooms at the stadium.

“I need to sleep on the press box thing some more. I’d rather have updated locker rooms,” Abson said.

Shepherd said the track, fencing and press box are included in $642,000 worth of work that is scheduled for phase one of a larger project to improve and update the stadium, which was built in the late 1940s in honor of servicemen who had lost their lives in the two world wars.

“It’s in a prominent area of the community, and it’s probably more visible than any other area of the community,” Shepherd said. “It’s one of the finest high-school stadiums in the state, and we want to maintain it as a first-class facility.

“I can’t think of any other project to bring before you that unites the community across socioeconomic lines, racial lines than the (El Dorado High School) Wildcats and the school district,” Shepherd said.

In addition to high-school sports, Shepherd said the Murphy USA Classic college football game is held there each fall. The 2016 event is set for Oct. 22.

Built by the school district in the 1990s, the press box is no longer practical for use by the district, Shepherd said.

Renderings put together by local architect Blake Dunn laid out a new, two-level structure with a film deck, coaches’ booths and dedicated areas for the media, Shepherd said.

High-end estimates for the project are $350,000.

Exterior chain-link fencing around the west, south and east sides of the stadium would be replaced with black aluminum fencing, and any interior chain-link would be painted black to blend in with the new fencing, Shepherd explained.

The remainder of the work will focus on a new sub-base and surface for the track. Shepherd said that when the track’s surface was removed several weeks ago, water damage was discovered underneath.

“The district is committed to improving the track and keeping it open for public use,” Shepherd said.

Phillip Lansdell, athletic director for the school district, said the new track surface will be the internationally accepted material that is approved and used by the Olympic games.

An extra $36,000 was included in the funding request to paint the new track purple.

Robert Reynolds, chairman of the EWB, asked if the purple paint would fade quicker than the default red color of the surfacing material.

Lansdell said the purple would likely fade faster, but he noted that it will be of a darker hue than the purple of the old track surface.

He also said the new paint job will come with a five-year warranty and will likely have to resealed in eight to 10 years.

Lansdell said the city removed the old track, repaired the drain lines and will assist with resurfacing.

“The city is waiting on the asphalt plant to start producing the sub-base we need,” Hash said.

Shepherd said the school district has committed $170,000 to phase one, plus a $30,000 grant that will be used for work on the track. The city is providing in-kind services to help meet the match for the grant.

Shepherd said he is also working with the district to apply for a $50,000 grant, which would bring the district’s total commitment to $250,000.

Downum made a motion to approve $296,000 to help cover the new track and fencing.

He asked if the district could direct its $170,000 commitment to the new press box.

Shepherd contacted Superintendent Jim Tucker about the matter and Tucker arrived later.

“I don’t see it as being a problem,” Tucker said, adding that the school board would have to vote on the issue.

Downum asked when the press box project would get under way, and Shepherd said it would likely start after the 2016 high-school football season.

Hash suggested that the group gather more information and revisit the issue when the El Dorado Works Board convenes for its next regular meeting at 5:15 p.m. on July 12.

“The track project is proceeding regardless,” the mayor said.