Though the bids came in higher than the most recent $2.4 million estimate, the Franklin School Board, in a split vote on May 28, decided to uphold the district's commitment to the project by approving the additional dollars.
The Saber Stadium Project, originally fueled by a parent-led capital campaign, was taken over by the district in February after the parent committee asked for financial aid for the stadium renovation, which will include a new, synthetic turf field, an eight-lane competition track and a video scoreboard.
But with a project cost estimate that has climbed from $2.1 million last August to $2.3 million in January to the school's $2.4 million commitment in February — some board members wondered when the stadium price tags would end.
In preparation for the stadium, the district invested $1.2 million for a concession stand last summer. And, more recently, the district approved a new girls softball diamond for $475,000 to coincide with stadium construction.
"We were told that we'd be saving money by doing this when we did, and it didn't turn out that way," said School Board President Janet Evans at the May 28 meeting. "It's blurry accountability to me, and I can't explain to the community why it's going to cost this much."
"What is your limit?" Evans asked the board. "If the administration comes back again (with another price), is there a limit?"
Multiple board members noted that the stadium's expense would, in part, be offset by Saber Stadium Project parents who have committed to continue raising funds.
The Saber Stadium Project Committee has raised about $1 million already, said Superintendent Steve Patz.
Beyond that, the project itself shouldn't be viewed as extravagant, Patz said.
"When we had the project from the start, we never once (included) fluff," he said. "We (the administrators) looked at what we really needed to have … without going overboard. We think it's the right thing to do at this time.
"I think it's really important we do it right the first time and I wouldn't say that if we didn't have the ability to do it."
The construction cost is to be taken from the district's fund balance, which is separate from the annual budget.
How to pay for it
Jim Milzer, director of business services, said it would be a good time to move forward with the project when the district could still afford to do so. And if money was left over from this year's budget, it could go toward the project to alleviate fund balance expenditures moving forward.
"I think there's an option to move (some of the expense) into next year's budget," said school board treasurer Linda Witkowski. " … I think there's a segment of the community that expects us to work at this. Yes, it would be easy to take money from the fund balance, but sometimes, if it's worth it, we should be working harder to honor the budget."
"We're not displacing any educational funds by doing this," Milzer responded. But by dipping into the budget in lieu of the fund balance, "you'd be displacing the long lists of projects we were going to do."
Board members debated whether the stadium should be completed in whole — or divided into parts over time — during this period of financial stability, before reaching a 4-3 decision to approve the additional $330,000. Evans, Witkowski and board vice president Tim Nielson opposed the motion.
"I really don't like spending the extra money either," said board member Alan Aleksandrowicz, "but when you're weighing both sides of it, at some point, the scale has to tip to one side or the other."
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