BOE Won’t Field Questions Until Next Spring

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The wait for an artificial turf field and track just got longer.

At its March 13 meeting, the Board of Education postponed any decision on new athletic facilities until the spring of 2013, citing new questions and the need for more research.

Approximately 30 people attended the meeting at Onaway Elementary School. After announcing the decision, the board allowed comments but not questions. After the announcement, which immediately followed roll call, a dozen people walked out. Some threw their agendas on the floor in apparent disgust.

Shaker resident Chris Ramsay, who ran for City Council last November, said, “The board was going to meet and vote on the matter, but last-minute they pulled it. It got pushed back to City Hall at one point, and they said, ‘No,’ so it came back to the school board, and I thought they were considering it. I just want to know why it was cancelled.”

Bob McKeiver, a representative of a Parma Heights company Field Turf, attended the meeting and was surprised, but not disappointed.

“We’ve been working with the district and the architect getting budgets put together and what not. I was a little bit surprised. I knew it wasn’t a done deal, but I didn’t think they would table it like they did,” McKeiver said.

Junior field hockey player Tia Morrison, who didn’t attend the meeting, was extremely disappointed when she heard the board’s decision. “It’s disappointing after all the efforts the teams put into a new field for our senior year,” she said.

The path to tonight’s decision began five years ago, when a committee met to assess the possibility of raising funds for a turf field. They were only able to secure one-third of the cost, so the possibility of a donor was raised. At one meeting, NFL veteran Nate Clements’ (’97) name was suggested.

Rumors circulated for two years that Clements offered to pay for a turf stadium, track and lights in exchange for naming rights, but that his offer was turned down. In September 2010, District Communications Director Peggy Caldwell told The Shakerite that the rumor “had no basis in fact.” Nevertheless, the Clements story persists today.

Athletes, coaches and residents, frustrated by the state of Shaker’s playing fields, took their concerns to school and city leaders at the Oct. 10, 2011 League of Women Voters-sponsored candidate’s forum at Shaker Middle School. The candidates all supported the issue but cited funding concerns. In an email message, Superintendent Mark Freeman stated, “At this time, the school district does not have the resources for a project of this scale. The stark reality is that we are losing $8 million in state funds over the next two years. Our priority is on maintaining academic programs.”

At a crowded City Council meeting Oct. 24, Shaker parents Lee Weingart and Doug Neary proposed a plan requesting city help to finance two turf fields and a new track. Despite strong support from athletes, coaches and parents who filled the room, Mayor Earl Leiken wasn’t convinced. “The city just doesn’t have resources right now to invest in school fields,” Leiken told a Shakerite reporter.

Those who favored this project were frustrated, but Weingart remained hopeful because the district was assembling a committee to assess repairs and improvements of school buildings, grounds and athletic fields.

The committee proposed money-saving changes in district energy use. They also identified about $5 million in energy efficiency improvement projects to be studied. The committee hopes the extra money accumulated over time would pay for the track and field project.

“Until they tell us to halt, we will continue with our planning process. It didn’t sound like it was completely a dead issue for this year,” said McKeiver of FieldTurf.

Junior soccer player Will Naugle was not as positive. He said, “It’s embarrassing. We have a field covered in sand and fertilizer.”

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