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032117 LUSD meeting 01

Lompoc High School track coach Jim Warrick, far right, addresses Lompoc Unified School District board members and administrators Tuesday night to encourage the board to pledge $1.2 million toward renovating Huyck Stadium. The board voted 4-1 in favor of the pledge.

Lompoc’s aging Huyck Stadium moved one step closer Tuesday night to undergoing a major overhaul.

The Lompoc Unified School District Board of Education voted 4-1 to pledge $1.2 million toward an extensive renovation project at the 54-year-old stadium. The pledge, which was for half of the estimated $2.4 million total cost of the project, was made to assure potential outside donors that the district is behind the effort. The lone vote against the pledge came from board member Richard King, who didn’t comment during the board’s discussion of the topic.

Tuesday’s vote came exactly one month after the multi-faceted project was first proposed to the board by Healthy Lompoc Coalition Executive Director Ashley Costa at the board’s Feb. 21 meeting.

“I believe we have a wonderful opportunity right now to renovate Huyck Stadium and I hope that you will support the renovation project,” longtime Lompoc High School track coach Jim Warrick said to the board before Tuesday’s vote.

The project would mainly consist of converting the natural grass field at the LUSD-owned stadium to synthetic turf, switching the track from its loose red clay to a synthetic polyurethane — or “all-weather” — surface, and reconfiguring the track to the modern accepted standard of 400 meters with nine lanes.

The LUSD board didn’t address where exactly the funding would come from, only that the district was committed to providing it. Potential funding sources, several of which have been presented to the board, are expected to be discussed as the project continues to move through the planning phases.

Costa had previously told the board that her organization, which is behind the renovation project, would come up with the other half of the cost. On Tuesday, she reaffirmed that commitment and said that some pledges have already been made from donors and that one particular donor was likely to pledge a “significant” amount if the LUSD board were to formally get behind the project.

Warrick was one of seven speakers who addressed the board at Tuesday night’s meeting. All of the speakers were in favor of the track portion of the project, though one community member expressed concerns about converting the natural grass to a synthetic material.

The speaker cited some college coaches who swear against synthetic turf, as well as some coaches and medical professionals who feel there is a link between the crumb rubber used on synthetic fields and health problems in children and athletes who play on the turf.

Emily Casarez, a program manager with the Healthy Lompoc Coalition, said that she and others at the Healthy Lompoc Coalition have heard similar comments from community members since going public with their proposal last month. She attempted to ease some of those concerns Tuesday while addressing the board.

“We want to reassure the board and the community that our group intends to fully research all potential turf products in relation to their health concerns, durability and costs before any purchases are made,” she said before noting that 22 National Football League teams and more than 130 college teams use synthetic fields.

Along with the speakers who advocated for the project on Tuesday, board member Dick Barrett also provided copies of letters of support from several community members, including track athlete Duane Solomon, a Lompoc native and Cabrillo High alumnus who competed for the U.S. in the 2012 Summer Olympics.

“Not only would it be a great place for current student athletes to compete daily, but as an alumni it would be amazing to come home and not have to drive an hour away to find a track suitable for my training needs, as I still compete for another Olympic cycle,” Solomon concluded his letter, in which he also pointed out that the dirt track at Huyck often hindered his times in high school.

If the Huyck Stadium renovation is successful, the facility would continue to be used by both the Lompoc and Cabrillo high school football teams. One significant difference would be that the track would become eligible to host CIF and other big meets, which could increase revenue for the district, according to Warrick.

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Another big change is that the facility would be open to the public when it is not in use by the school district. The city of Lompoc has already pledged to provide after-hours security.

Costa told the board Tuesday that she wanted to be as transparent as possible as the project moves along and pointed out that certain elements — such as printing logos on the field or using organic materials in the field turf instead of rubber — could lead to increased costs.

“There are many items that could increase this theoretical cost estimate,” she said.

“I just want to be very upfront that there are things we’re thinking about and there are things we can afford, and most likely things that we won’t be able to afford here,” she added.

Costa also pointed to some of the ongoing maintenance costs that will be needed for the new track and field — costs that could reach $15,000 or more per year depending on several factors — before noting that the project’s organizing committee would be willing to work with the district to set up a maintenance fund.

Board members Barrett, Jeff Carlovsky and Bill Heath each expressed support for the project, though Heath said he would not like to see the funding come from another bond measure. A consultant made a presentation to the board earlier in the evening about the process for placing a general obligation bond on the 2018 ballot following the failure of a bond measure in 2016.

“I think it’s important that we realize that anytime we have community members donating half of (the cost for) a project,” Carlovsky said, “we should do our darnedest to contribute the other half.”

Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.