July 24, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Highland Schools’ plans unveiled for new stadium

The community got a first look Monday night at a multimillion-dollar football stadium and tennis complex Highland Schools officials want to build.

Superintendent Catherine Aukerman unveiled the plans to a group of about 50 teachers, staff and parents at a school board meeting on Monday night.

A conceptual drawing of a proposed stadium for Highland High School. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY LOREN GENSON)

Board members voted to start design work on the project — estimated to cost $7 million to $8 million — to be built just south of the high school on Ridge Road.

Aukerman said serious discussion of building a new stadium to replace Highland Stadium — about a quarter-mile up the road from the high school — has been under way for about a year and a half.

“Some would argue this is 20 years in the making, others would argue it’s 50 years in the making,” she said.

In 2012, the board hired Mann Architects to begin preliminary conceptual design work on the stadium.

The district already has completed the preliminary surveys to build the stadium.

“This land has always been set aside for this project,” she said.

Aukerman said the project will be financed over 20 years with up to $400,000 from the approximately $1 million in sales tax revenue the district receives annually.

But she added that some of the cost might be offset by donations from the Highland Athletic Facilities Association, a non-profit organization established to help the district raise money for athletic fields.

Joe Kohmann, president of the organization, said he is looking for corporate sponsorships for the stadium, including naming rights.

Architectural drawings of the sports complex were displayed at Monday’s meeting.

“What you see tonight is very preliminary,” she cautioned. “I cannot stress enough that these are conceptual.”

Aukerman said the new stadium would feature an artificial playing surface and additional parking.

“Turf is a must, we’re not going to put natural grass,” she said.

The conceptual drawings showed additional parking to the south of the library at what would be a southern entrance to the stadium and more parking on the western-most portion of the complex near what would be a set of tennis courts.

Highland Stadium, built in 1959, holds a little more than 1,000 fans.

This season, the Hornets football team clinched a home game for the first round of playoffs, but the game was moved to nearby North Royalton to handle the crowd.

Aukerman said she hoped the new stadium would seat about 5,000, with about 3,500 in seating on the home field side.

She said parking situation at the old stadium, near the middle school — which includes a shuttle service from the high school lot — is a safety problem.

“Our goal would be to stop the shuttle bus experience for everyone,” she said. “We also have people parking on (state Route) 94 and other places they shouldn’t be.”

Board members were supportive of the plan, voting unanimously to start design work, which was specified to not cost more than 6.5 percent of the total project’s cost.

Board President Norm Christopher said the stadium would benefit more than just the football program at the school, and give the district the opportunity to host tournaments and track meets, which could be potential revenue sources.

“In order to host a track tournament, you have to have eight lanes,” Christopher said, adding the current facility has only six.

Board member Dan Petek said even the basic conceptual design required months of discussion and debate.

“There was a lot of thought put into this,” he said. “It took months to get to this point.”

Board Vice President Bob Kelly said the plan to use sales tax revenues, which only can be put toward capital expenses made the project an easy one to support.

“Over the time of this project, it will not affect our operating dollars,” he said.

During public comment on the plan, a handful of parents and athletics supporters spoke.

One parent raised concerns about the aging elementary schools in each of three townships served by the district.

Aukerman acknowledged the schools, which are all about 90 years old, would need to be replaced soon. She said parents in the district favored smaller local schools, rather than a district-wide primary school.

But building three elementary schools would require more money than the sales tax provides.

“We bring in a little more than $1 million in sales tax each year,” Aukerman said. “At a cost of $16 million, we would spend 16 years saving to build just one of three buildings.”

Aukerman said a bond issue would be a better way to fund new elementary schools.

“In time we do believe we’ll be going to the community to ask for funds for the new elementary schools,” she said.

The new sports complex drew praise from audience members.

Brian Skidmore, a district parent, said he was supportive of the project even though his kids don’t play sports.

“I just think it’s a fantastic project,” he said.

With the high turnout of parents at the meeting, board members seemed surprised that only a few people got up to speak. When board members joked that “nobody else wants to speak” and “all I see are smiles out there,” an enthusiastic parent shouted her support for the project.

“Hey, we’re ready, let’s go,” she said.

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com.

Loren Genson About Loren Genson

Loren Genson was The Gazette's senior reporter. From August 2012 through September 2015, she covered Brunswick city and state and national government. To contact The Gazette, call the managing editor at (330) 721-4065.