TURLOCK -- Two drastically divergent visions for the future of Turlock High School's Joe Debely Stadium have emerged in recent weeks:
A mecca for sporting and civic events, crawling with athletes and fans most days.
Or, an updated track and field, made safer and more available for students on campus but otherwise used about the same as it is now.
City Council members cited more frequent use and bigger events to justify spending $2.8 million in redevelopment money to upgrade the stadium.
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City Councilman Ted Howze, in an opinion piece published in November, said "the expanded hours of field availability from the current 800 hours annually to a projected 3,000 hours annually would allow the scheduling of a wide array of new events."
Members of the Turlock Unified School District Board of Trustees, who have ultimate control over the stadium, disagree with Howze.
"My intention has never been to make it available 3,000 hours a year," Trustee Loren Holt said this week. District officials said the biggest change in usage will come when Turlock High School physical education students will be able to use the field, which now is reserved for athletics once the seasons start.
Turlock and Pitman high schools play their home games at Joe Debely Stadium. Community groups use it for events such as the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life, and youth football teams play there.
Concerns about glare from stadium lights, traffic and parking are cited in a lawsuit a residents' group lodged against the school district and the city, which provided redevelopment cash for an all-weather synthetic track and field.
A judge this week sided with the city, but left the plaintiffs the option to amend their complaint and refile it within 20 days. Attorney Richard Harriman, who represents the residents' group, said that will happen.
Harriman objected to this week's action by the school board to spare the stadium project from certain environmental studies because, the district said, the character of Joe Debely won't fundamentally change.
Richard Savini, who lives near Turlock High School, told the board that was news to him. Savini called the claim that the stadium won't see more use "convenient."
Opponents said the district's stance flies in the face of the position city officials took to justify spending redevelopment money, which is generally used to ease blight, increase property values or create jobs, thus bringing more tax money to the city.
In his opinion piece, Howze said the city stands to gain "significant transient occupancy tax revenue from visiting hotel guests" attracted by new events at the stadium.
Trustees said that has no impact on how they will run the stadium.
"To suggest that we're in cahoots with the City Council is really disingenuous and a little offensive," board President Frank Lima said. "We're going to do what we believe is in the best interests of the students, because that's what we're here for."
Howze said he didn't mean to give the impression the field would be in constant use.
"Perhaps that perception is partially my fault, because that quotation of the usage was for potentially maximum usage," he said. "What I was really trying to do was illustrate the difference as to where we are now to where we could potentially be."
Howze, who sits on the board of a youth football program that would use the new stadium, said there is no question in his mind who will run it.
"In the end, it is the school district's facility, and they will have the final say and control of the usage," he said.
Howze said the district makes the track and field available to community groups and the public, and that some who live nearby will be among those to benefit the most from the upgrade.
On that point, Lima agreed:
"You see dozens of people walking around that track at night," he said. "They're not walking around it right now, because it's a lake."
Holt pointed out that there are already traffic, parking and noise problems. "We can do nothing and still have these concerns," he said.
Trustees said they will work with neighbors to make sure their concerns are addressed.
"Have a little faith in us," Trustee Tami Muniz said. "At the end of the day, it comes down to the kids, and this is going to benefit a lot of kids."
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at pguerra @modbee.com or 578-2343.