TURLOCK — Despite pleas from residents concerned about everything from noise to disease, the Turlock Unified School District was poised to move ahead with a plan to upgrade Joe Debely Stadium on Tuesday night.
The evening's other looming issue, a decision on sending layoff notices to employees, was unresolved at The Bee's deadline.
The stadium project includes building an all-weather track and synthetic turf and improving accessibility to restrooms, the stands and snack bar. Acting as the Turlock Redevelopment Agency, the City Council last year gave the school district $2.8 million for the improvements.
A residents' group sued the city and the school district, saying the project is not an appropriate use of redevelopment money, which is intended to ease blight or bring in more taxes.
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School board members Tuesday reconsidered a finding they made last year that the project does not require extensive environmental study. A new field, the plaintiffs allege, will result in increased use by community groups and youth leagues, causing more parking problems, noise and glare from lights at night games.
They did not vote by The Bee's deadline. Instead, school officials read from a 31-page staff report and public discussion was held up until after 10 p.m.
Some residents spoke in an open comment period before the school board's business got under way. The meeting included several presentations about subjects that weren't related to the stadium or the budget.
But the drama centered on the stadium plan.
"At this point, we do not anticipate that there will be great change in the use of the stadium other than the increased use by our P.E. classes," facilities planner Roger K. Smith said.
Smith said concerns about parking, vehicle emissions, pedestrian safety and crime — also cited by project opponents — are unfounded because the field won't be used that much more, except by students already on campus.
Smith said the stadium is used from 7 to 10 p.m. 40 times a year, and staff does not anticipate an increase in that number.
Attorney Richard Harriman disputed those projections, adding that they undercut the City Council's reasoning for investing in the stadium with redevelopment money.
Joe Silva, 74, lives four blocks from the stadium. He told the board he is concerned about more amplified noise from more regular use.
"Sometimes we're just needing the extra rest, and we try to go to bed before the ball game's over. But we can't because of the noise," Silva said.
Silva said his problem was with the public address system. He said he brought his concerns to the district last year, and that 2009 was better than the previous year.
"And for that, I thank you very, very much," he said.
Another speaker cited an increased risk of MRSA infection found in Texas football players who used artificial turf fields and asked the board whether the district or the city would be liable if students get sick.
Smith said there is no evidence to suggest there will be an increase of any health risks with the artificial turf. He said the state of California found that turf does not harbor or contain methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Further, he said injuries probably will decrease because the field will be in better condition than the current uneven, overworn grass.
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2343.