The recently completed $110 million Christopher High School is a vision of architectural excellence, but its athletic field – more or less a “pasture of dirt and natural grass in terrible shape” – is turning heads in a bad way.
“What we have now is a hard-packed surface with minimal tufts of grass that grow sporadically in clumps,” described CHS Athletic Director Darren Yafai, addressing the public during a Gilroy Unified School District board meeting Thursday night.
Some sports injuries at CHS have been “pretty catastrophic” due to poor surface conditions and a lack of turf congruency, explained Athletic Trainer Stacey Walker. The result is a booby trapped 4-acre sprawl teeming with divots, holes and a “hilly” surface on the corner of Santa Teresa Boulevard and Day Road.
“I found a 6-inch hole by twisting my own ankle,” Walker told trustees. “If it’s not a mud puddle, it’s hard-packed dirt that is like concrete … it’s something I’ve never seen at any facility I’ve ever worked for.”
One referee almost canceled a field hockey game last month, according to CHS Principal John Perales.
“We basically had to beg the official to let us compete,” he said. “That’s what we’ve been battling.”
A group of CHS dads are taking that battle on.
Encouraged by a $1 million pledge from garlic mogul Don Christopher – the benefactor for whom the new high school at 850 Day Road is named – a committee spearheaded by six fathers spent hundreds of volunteer hours researching what it will take to construct the “Don Christopher Sports Complex” at CHS.
The overall price tag lands at $4.25 million, by their estimates. Don Christopher, who previously donated the 10 acres of land the school sits on along with $75,000 for student activities and a $1.2 million endowment, wants to see a match to his million before he donates the funds, says CHS parent and committee member Larry Sanford.
“We are not looking to build the Taj Mahal,” he told the School Board, during a presentation. “This is going to be a humble complex similar to what other high schools have, starting from the inside out. We’re looking to balance the needs of the community and school with this field.”
He listed a checklist that includes better turf, track and bleachers, followed gradually by fencing, better lighting, a flagpole, guest bleachers, a press box and scoreboard.
Getting to play home football games at home, having a sense of place and being able to play sports at any given time without carting their gear off to Gilroy High School is a hoped-for perk Principal Perales speaks of with noticeable longing.
Problems with the field trace back to the high school’s planning phases, when synthetic turf and track were removed from specifications to cut down costs. Reduced measures called for “hydroseeding” (spraying a mixture of seeds, mulch and water) instead of laying down new soil, according to Yafai. He said the move was authorized by former GUSD Assistant Superintendent Enrique Palacios, the Gilbane Construction Company and its sub-contractor, Jensen Landscaping.
“What we have now is the natural Day Road clay field,” Yafai explained. “We’ve done renovation jobs, but within weeks or sometimes months, it’s just a disaster again.”
Superintendent Debbie Flores pointed out that maintenance workers will have to dig down four feet to lay down new soil. Analysis needs to be done on whether new grass or artificial turf is cheaper in the long haul, she added.
Perhaps “phase I,” which is estimated to cost somewhere around $2.6 million, should consist of finding the best solution to fix the CHS sports field to address the critical issue of student-athlete injuries, trustee Mark Good suggested.
The School Board heaped praises on the committee’s research and expressed humble gratitude for the “unsurpassed” generosity of the Christopher family. Trustees, however, are cognizant of 10 construction/renovation projects currently underway or in the pipeline at various elementary, middle and high school sites.
“We’re committed to them, and there may be some unknowns,” reminded trustee Rhoda Bress.
From now until the Dec. 6 School Board meeting, district staff will evaluate the fiscal impact of its current projects, continue with its process of reestablishing project priorities and explore what – if anything – it can contribute to the new CHS sports complex.
An estimated $7.5 million in capital funds will be available through the end of 2014, but that depends on revenue projections and whether current projects come in under or over budget.
“Obviously these are funds that have gotta carry us forward for some years into the future,” said trustee Jaime Rosso. “But, at the same time, I think the need is clear in my mind … we may have some amount that can help get this effort going.”
Board President Tom Bundros admitted it is highly unlikely GUSD will be able to come up with $1 million.
The sports complex committee has put together a list of a possible 25 local and corporate sponsors but doesn’t plan on asking for sponsorships until they know this is a “bona fied project and not a drain,” said Sanford.
Outside of GUSD, the committee has held “extensive” meetings with the city, since the community at large and local recreation programs could benefit from the new field. The committee will also be drumming up community support in the coming months, performing additional cost analysis and meeting with the newly-elected mayor to talk about “tapping into city reserves.”
“Our youth soccer program is very popular. It usually fills up right away,” noted City Recreation Director Maria De Leon.
She said the city would likely expand its existing facilities agreement with the school district to utilize the new field at CHS.
“That would be a true community benefit,” De Leon added.
Other arguments brought forth by the committee include the thousands of dollars GUSD spends annually on transporting track and football athletes across town to GHS for games and practice. Between city recreation programs, Gavilan College and high school athletes, a “tremendous amount of pressure is being put on the GHS facility” which is being used “around the clock,” Flores confirmed.
A new CHS sports complex will allow the high school to host major regional sports tournaments and playoffs, thus benefiting the local economy by bringing in gas, restaurant and lodging revenue, Sanford added.
“We’re not asking for special treatment … we’re extremely clear on the mountains we have to move to make this happen,” he said. “At the end of the day we’ll be happy with turf, track and aluminum stands. If we could just do that, then I think everything else will take care of itself.”
• Larry Sanford
• Randy Moen
• Jim Rhodes
• George Sammut
• Gerald Zimmerman
• Russ Pacheco