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Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)
September 18, 2013 Wednesday
METRO; Pg. B-01
|Report: City schools athletic facilities lacking;
Match grant could help John Marshall field, but cost could rule out project
The possible scuttling of a grant for work on the football field at Richmond's John Marshall High School has led to public revelation of widespread deficiencies in athletic facilities across the city.
During a meeting of the Richmond School Board on Monday, city educational leaders debated the merits of pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into a single field when the city as a whole needs millions of dollars in upgrades.
During that meeting, the board received a report from the Richmond Sports Backers that detailed the state of physical education facilities and paltry offerings for city students.
They also heard from interim Superintendent Jonathan Lewis about a 2011 study that detailed nearly $8 million in necessary upgrades if the city wants its four old high schools to offer the same level of amenities that will be in the new Huguenot High School.
"It does not sit well to put so much money into a field and nothing else is being developed around it," Shonda Harris-Muhammed of the 6th District said of a proposal to install a synthetic turf football field at John Marshall. "I don't think we have the money. I don't know where we're going to get it from when we have so many different things we need to do."
Last month, the National Football League Foundation awarded the school a $200,000 matching grant to install the field.
But unknown to most School Board members at the time, the grant came with an expensive string attached: the school system not only had to match the grant, but also make up the difference in funding the installation of the field.
During Monday's meeting, Lewis estimated the cost of such a field at $785,000. Minus the grant and a pledge from the city for $150,000, the school system was still on the hook for $435,000.
The NFL Foundation made a subsequent offer for a $100,000 grant for a natural grass field. But that project could cost more than $380,000.
For the fiscal year that runs through June 30, the school system has $700,000 total for maintenance and improvement needs at 44 schools.
"The fiscal realities of where we are dictate much of this discussion," said School Board Chairman Jeffrey Bourne of the 3rd District.
The NFL Foundation asked the school system to make a decision in the next two weeks.
Most board members supported spending that time looking for a corporate benefactor to make up the difference -- perhaps in exchange for naming rights to the field -- but the sentiment was not unanimous.
"We need to be careful in what we expend our capital on in the business community," said Derik Jones of the 8th District. "We can't tap the well too many times. ... To tap into the business community for a field, I don't know if it's wise."
The John Marshall field aside, the city has a wide, deep list of needs.
Earlier this year, Sports Backers proposed working with the school system to augment its physical education offerings.
Sports Backers Executive Director Jon Lugbill said he hoped his group could help make PE "about physical activity" but he shied away from accepting the challenge alone.
After studying gyms, locker rooms, and other sports and health facilities in city schools, he presented a report that focused on overcoming those challenges.
The first goal, he said, should be convening a group to address the problem.
"We'd like to be involved in figuring out what the solutions are," he told the School Board.
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September 19, 2013