Newark Memorial High School is getting a new track and football field — one with turf instead of grass — but the decision to approve the funds for the new facilities wasn’t without its controversy.
On Monday, the Newark Unified School District Board of Education voted, 4-1, including student board member Diego Torres, to approve $169,125 for the purchase and installation of water bottle filling stations at all school sites and $6.3 million to demolish the existing track and football field at Newark Memorial and plan, design, engineer and construct a new one. The track and field improvement project is expected to take about a year and half to two years to complete.
Board member Aiden Hill was opposed, saying $6.3 million was a lot of money and not enough discussions had taken place with a broader slice of the community.
“We have one pot of money,” Hill said, and it was unfair to allocate 25% of the budget for capital improvements on one project without engaging the other stakeholders.
The district has about $23 million to use for capital improvements for the entire district, comprised of $14 million from developer fees that have accumulated over time as development happens in the city and $9 million in one-time funds from the Ruschin Fund, Superintendent Mark Triplett said.
“Although $23 million sounds like a lot of money, we have approximately $600 million worth of improvements that are needed,” Triplett said.
The school district reached out to students, staff and families at Newark Memorial High School to find out what their top five priorities were for capital improvements at the school, which Triplett said are “big projects that really dramatically change the facility and the property.” About 220 people responded that their top priorities were a new track and field with turf instead of grass, water bottle filling stations, and renovation and addition of bathrooms.
“The track and field, football field, is in disrepair and in really poor condition,” said Marie dela Cruz, the district’s chief business official. “It’s well beyond its useful life. It’s probably over 30 years old.”
Hill said the survey didn’t take into the account the perspective of the broader community, which expressed different priorities in a report prepared by a consultant a few years ago.
“I think it’s very hasty,” Hill said. “I think it’s very irresponsible.”
However, board vice president and clerk Terrence Grindall pointed out that’s a preliminary cost estimate and the contract would still go out for a competitive bidding process. At the same time, he said the safety concerns raised by student athletes and staff need to be addressed.
“There was a community process,” Grindall said. “The community came out, engaged, told us what they wanted. We need to honor that process in my opinion.”
As for the water bottle filling stations, dela Cruz said the district is using the funds to replace one water fountain at each of the elementary schools and two at each of the middle and high schools. The $169,125 covers the cost of buying and installing the units, including potentially some electrical and carpentry work.
“I just want to mention that the district did go through a facilities master plan process, and I checked the cost estimate from a couple years ago — it was about $5 million,” dela Cruz said. ” … So every year that we wait, the cost increases as well.”
Board president Phuong Nguyen said the district needed parents’ help to pass a bond of up to $270 million in 2024.
“With that kind of money, we would be able to do some major, major improvements to our schools,” Nguyen said. “And that would be amazing.”