Complex decision

The Fredonia Board of Education has a big decision to make regarding how to present the upcoming EXCEL Capital Project to the public for a referendum vote.

John Gullo of the Fredonia Sports Complex Initiative, along with other members of the group (which is comprised entirely of people who live in the district), were present during Tuesday’s meeting to persuade the board to accept a proposal that would build a brand new sports complex on top of the worn and patchy running track already in existence on the main campus.

Gullo and the FSCI cited major safety and convenience concerns with the current Fredonia football field, the Orange Bowl, as well as the soccer field, as being a huge motivating factor for their initiative. These include poor drainage (resulting in potential slipping and falling); a lack of adjacent parking spaces; dramatic grade changes on the football field; heavy traffic (which pedestrians must avoid when walking across Routes 20 and 60); poor access of emergency and security vehicles to the fields; no flushing toilets nearby; and poor grass quality.

“If we make any substantial changes to the Orange Bowl, we have to make it all handicapped-accessible,” Gullo said. “I recognize why nothing had been done (to renovate it). I understand, it’s very expensive to do anything. Football is one sport for one gender, one small subset of our students. That caused us to start looking at our backyard’s assets.”

The capital project can move forward in one of two directions for exterior renovations: replacing the running track alone or creating the sports complex, which would include an international-sized track, a natural grass or synthetic turf football and soccer field inside the track, connecting walkways, a press box and scoreboard, new bleachers and a concession stand with bathrooms.

“By combining these three sports into one location, we preserve our land for the uses that we really need,” Gullo said. “We could choose to put up a practice field or two, a place for our teams to practice, not on our nice field, but some place where they’re able to practice.”

Exterior funds of the EXCEL project are limited to about $535,000, but the sports complex comes to a total cost of around $2.34 million. A bond for $1.8 million would therefore have to be issued over a 15-year span with 95 percent of the project aidable at an 82.7 percent building aid, according to Director of Instruction Joseph Reyda. The local net cost would be about $600,000, or $40,000 per year for 15 years. The FSCI has pledged that if the district decides to go with the sports complex option, it will raise the necessary funds as a not-for-profit organization to offset a need to raise the tax rate. However, the public’s taxes must be committed to the project if the FSCI cannot cover the entire local share of the cost, according to School Attorney Jeff Stone.

“(Under financing laws,) there cannot be any shred of risk for the bondholders,” he said. “If the pledges come in over time … you really have to commit the taxpayers to the (project) because you cannot leave a gap in the funds … if payment is not made (by the FSCI).”

“We have not raised one nickel as of yet, but we have received pledges from people who will donate money,” Gullo said. “I’m not going to collect anything until (the board) decides that (it wants) to build something. I’m not going to sell a product that I don’t know if you’ll ever agree to it. We will raise whatever it is that we need. Admittedly, that takes a measure of trust and lot of work on our side.”

“I certainly do see a need to upgrade our sports facilities,” Superintendent Paul DiFonzo said. “I don’t think you’ll have to go very far to convince us there’s a need.”

Gullo added that leasing naming rights on the sports complex would bring in a significant amount of revenue to pay off the complex. Other methods of fundraising he mentioned included asking the OBSERVER to contribute money for the press box, approaching Fredonia Olympian Jenn Suhr and her sponsors, asking for assistance from wealthy alumni and raising revenue from the concession stand.

“I have already secured a pledge for over one-third of the money that is involved in this project, but it is connected to naming rights,” Gullo said.

“Our next meeting is Oct. 8 and we would come here with a choice of propositions, we would review the EXCEL project as presented by the EXCEL Committee and also review the option for a field for a second contingent proposition,” DiFonzo said.

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