By CARL SMITH
Starkville High School athletic director Stan Miller knows he has an uphill fight against budget constraints if he wants to find funding for various athletic facilities improvements.
But Miller showed his grassroots campaigning skills to the Starkville School District Board of Trustees Tuesday when he unveiled $1.3 million in projects and told the board he is working to procure funds to offset the costs with corporate donations, an anonymous donor who is willing to make a major contribution and another unnamed entity that could share one project’s future costs.
Miller unveiled his vision for new and upgraded athletic facilities to SSD trustees Tuesday during the board’s monthly meeting. His plans include replacing the football and soccer field with synthetic turf, providing the district’s track with an all-weather covering and constructing six additional tennis courts at the current SHS facility.
“What we’ve realized is it’ll take a lot of different groups working together with the school district if we’re going to pull these projects off,” Miller said following Tuesday’s meeting.
Miller’s presentation was simply an update for the board as the district approaches its budget season. Board members said they were understanding and sympathetic to the district’s athletic needs, but no official action was taken on any of the proposed projects.
The football field is the district’s most pressing athletic improvement project, Miller told board members during his presentation. He said the field’s underground sprinkler system appears to be in such a state of disrepair it floods some areas while not providing enough water to grow grass in others. Miller said coaches have observed water bubbling through the ground in some parts.
After the district spent thousands of dollars before last year’s football season to re-sprig the field, numerous dead patches remain on its surface. The problem is not new for SSD, Miller said, and the board can expect to come back to the issue in the future.
To alleviate the problem, Miller says the district needs to install a synthetic turf field which the football and soccer teams can utilize during their seasons. The estimated cost of installing a synthetic field is $560,000. Miller said corporate donations can be utilized to fun the costly project. As of July 1, he said corporate donations will total $54,000. That number is projected to reach $204,000 in nine years.
If the district chooses to repair the sprinkler system, address drainage issues on the sidelines and re-sprig the field, the district could spend almost $120,000 on the project.
Board member Eddie Myles said he hates that the district has to continually address the field’s nagging problems each year.
“Let’s say we spend $80,000 to $150,000 on the field each year. We’ve got to ask ourselves if that’s the wisest thing to do,” Assistant Superintendent Walter Gonsoulin said following Miller’s presentation. “We’ve got to get to a point where we see things long term.”
Future upgrades to the football field could come in a packaged project which also addresses the SHS track’s surface.
When the track was constructed in 2000, Miller said the district “basically ran out of money” and could not properly seal its surface. Since its construction, cracks and other structural problems developed, preventing the district from holding meets.
“We’ve never even seen our track kids perform,” Myles said following Miller’s presentation. “It’s unfair.”
“If you want shin splints, go run on our track,” Miller said.
Approximately $500,000 would be needed to construct a new racing facility, but Miller said an engineering firm could tear down the current track’s surface, rebuild it and add a final layer for $350,000.
To cover the track project’s cost, Miller hinted at possibly obtaining a large donation from a SHS graduate.
“Omis (Avant) has a personal friend … who does not want to have his name disclosed,” Miller said. “He has about seven companies he owns, but he’s gradually phasing out of the corporations. He just told us he wanted to make a substantial donation to the district. He knows how much we’re looking at (in regard to the track project’s cost).”
As for constructing new tennis courts, Miller said the initial $390,000 estimate includes the new playing surfaces and provides lighting and fencing upgrades for the whole facility.
Additional facilities would be utilized in developing a feeder tennis program for SSD middle school students and could spurt Starkville Tennis Association membership growth.
In turn, STA tennis tournaments would attract athletes from all across the region, Miller said, which would boost Starkville’s 2 percent food, beverage and hotel tax coffers.
Currently, a one-third ownership agreement exists between SHS, STA and Starkville Parks and Recreation.
A fourth group which possibly would take an equal share of ownership and costs in the future has emerged, Miller said, but he would not disclose the organization or its members. A meeting is scheduled this week between interested parties, he said.
Miller also said STA members could approach the United States Tennis Association for a grant which would cover up to $50,000 for the project.
SSD Board of Trustees President Keith Coble asked Miller if the district could construct three courts at a time while working toward 12, but Miller said the incremental additions would not supply major tournaments until the final number of courts was constructed.
School board members took Miller’s presentation under consideration as the district will soon turn its focus to compiling next year’s operating budget.