Field surface not identified in new baseball, softball complex price

A $4.4 million price tag is what Hays CISD leaders tabbed as the maximum cost of Hays High’s new baseball and softball complex Monday.

But even with the decision, which came via a split 4-3 vote, board trustees were no closer on deciding whether the complex would have a natural grass or synthetic turf playing surface. It was a move that left many Hays baseball and softball athletes, coaches and parents who packed into Monday’s board meeting advocating for turf frustrated.

Will McManus, Hays CISD’s Facilities and Bond Oversight Committee (FBOC) Chair, said the committee gave Hays CISD two options on how to approach the guaranteed maximum price (GMP) for the new complex.

Both options, however, surpassed the district’s planned estimate of $3.6 million, of which voters approved in May 2017.

One option, which had a price tag of $4.4 million and was recommended by the FBOC, called for the district to potentially use remaining funds from Proposition 2 of the May 2017 bond to pay for the overage.

McManus said the FBOC purposefully avoided identifying a playing surface in its recommendation so as to allow the district to “get the most” it could for the price. However, McManus personally believed the committee was placed in a “no-win situation” as there are many unknowns on how much could be left from Proposition 2 projects.

During Monday’s meeting, McManus opined that the situation was a “mess” and questioned how the district’s cost estimates fluctuated so much. McManus said the varying cost estimates was an error by district administration that negatively impacts the students.

“We were trying to do the best for students with limited funds,” McManus said. “It was a very awkward position to be in.”

The committee’s second option, which McManus said was almost unanimously voted down by the FBOC, centered on using remaining 2014 bond funds to pay for a $5.2 million facility, which would include turf. McManus said the FBOC was not comfortable using 2014 bond funds for the stadium as voters at that time didn’t approve of it.

Trustee Esperanza Orosco also balked at the use of 2014 funds, citing the district’s original intent for those monies to go toward paying for more buses.

Carter Scherff, Hays CISD chief operating officer, said the district has $4 million remaining in unused funds from the 2014 bond. Roughly $2.7 million will go to purchasing 27 new buses. The remaining $1.3 million, which is unallocated at this time, could buy another 13 buses.

Trustees were split overall on whether the facility should have grass or turf. Trustee Holly Raymond, who advocated for a synthetic turf playing surface, said the district needed to push to make it happen, as well as have plans to place a synthetic surface at the Lehman baseball and softball field.

She said the district has a “unique opportunity” to fix a problem of inequity, which she believed could arise when William Moe and Gene Johnson High is built. The new high school is slated to have a synthetic turf surfaced baseball and softball field.

Trustees Vanessa Petrea and Bert Bronaugh also spoke in favor of synthetic turf. Both, along with Raymond, all voted against the $4.4 million option.

“We’re going to start playing a dangerous game of who’s got what and who has this or doesn’t have this,” Raymond said.

Trustee Teresa Tobias held issue with the state of inequity should Hays’ new complex have synthetic turf. Scherff said the turf surface for the new complex was an alternate option, but was not designed into the $3.6 million estimate.

Tobias cited the lack of a timeline as to when Lehman could have turf at its fields.

Trustees also debated on the possibility of placing synthetic turf at Hays and Lehman baseball and softball fields into a possible 2019 bond.

“Artificial turf is great, but we can’t afford to put it at the high schools right now,” Tobias said.

A handful of Rebel players and parents spoke during public comment in favor of turf.

Mike Blackwell, a parent of a current Hays softball player, said financial concerns could be mitigated with the turf surface, which could allow the district to host playoff games.

“It’s a win-win situation, this turf is,” Blackwell said. “The big reason is we get out of the dirt raking business and get the players into beating Westlake and Lake Travis again.”

Hays CISD now must fit the new complex into the price tag. Scherff believed the $4.4 million price tag could only cater to a grass surface. McManus believed turf may still be a possibility, but it would take the district’s design team to “sharpen its pencils” to figure it out. 

Ultimately, McManus said there would be a new complex, no matter what field surface is selected.

“There are brand new fields being built,” McManus said. “It may be grass, it may be turf. I don’t know.”

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