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Pittsburgh Tribune Review
Two businessmen have approached the Butler Area School District about building a privately owned sports complex on school property.
The district might be interested so that students and student athletes could use the space, said Superintendent Michael Strutt, provided no financial strings are attached.
"If it's going to cost the district anything "" any part of it "" that's a completely different story," Strutt said.
Former major league pitcher Matt Clement, a native of Butler Township, has been working for several years to bring an indoor sports complex to Butler County, saying he wants to give back to the community. He stressed that he and business partner Daryl Patten are just beginning to explore the possibility of locating on school property and have no intention of saddling the district with any costs.
"There's 1,000 things to talk through," Clement said. "It's something we really need, but there's a lot more this school district has to spend money on."
In spring 2012, Clement and Patten ran into opposition with plans to build a $1.35 million, domed complex with a baseball field and training facilities for other sports, including soccer, lacrosse, softball, basketball and football, within the Highfield Community Center at South Duffy and Highfield roads.
The project was to be paid for through private and public funding. It received a $500,000 state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant.
Township manager Ed Kirkwood said that the pair nearly two years ago withdrew their application to build the facility within Highfield and have not submitted applications for any other locations to the township.
Clement and Patten recently spoke to the Butler Area school board's athletic committee.
"We asked the district, "˜If we can figure out a way logistically to do this, would you be interested?' " said Clement, who had an 87-86 record pitching over nine seasons in the MLB for the San Diego Padres (1998-2000), Florida Marlins (2001), Chicago Cubs (2002-2004) and Boston Red Sox (2005-2006).
Strutt said the district can't afford to build any new sports facilities but desperately needs more training space for athletes, with some students having to practice at 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. in elementary school gyms.
Some teams practice in parking lots, Clement added.
"We couldn't work something into our budget right now. We can't absorb an additional expense," Strutt said.
Strutt said a private complex could be built on the site of the high school's tennis courts. The district could use it during the day, but it would be run as a business at night, rented out to sports organizations.
There are plenty of legal hurdles to overcome, Strutt said, including questions about liability, who would pay for maintenance, taxes and other issues. The next board athletics committee meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. April 21 in the Harriger Educational Services Center.
While many districts sell shuttered buildings to developers, it's less common for a private business to operate on school property.
The Baldwin-Whitehall School District rents space in the Wallace School building to entities including a district judge, a library, tax service and Easter Seals.
The Moon Area School District rented out the shuttered Carnot and McCormick elementary schools to USAirways to use as training facilities beginning in the late 1990s until about 2005.
"We're perfectly willing to take this slowly, to make sure everything is talked through completely, to see if we're able to work out some mutually beneficial agreement," Strutt said. "I don't think there's any rush to get it done."
Oakland resident Jim Thompson, who has four grandchildren in Butler Area schools, said that he didn't want taxpayers to foot costs of the project.
"When it's a private business on taxpayer property, I think we have to be very, very careful," Thompson said. "I'm not saying I'm 100 percent against it, but I think you have to have the T's crossed and the I's dotted."
Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or firstname.lastname@example.org