State

Turlock stadium funding has strings attached

TURLOCK -- School board members Tuesday night unanimously agreed to take nearly $3 million from the city to install an all-weather track and synthetic field at Joe Debely Stadium.

But before any money changes hands, a host of conditions must be met. Among them:

- The city's Redevelopment Agency must decide if the project is an appropriate use of its money, even though the field lies outside the RDA boundary.

- City and school staffs have to figure out how the facility will be used and what kind of access the public will have.

- The city has to thwart the state's threatened grab of $3 million of its redevelopment money to help balance the state budget.

Everybody agrees that the football field and track, built in 1950, are in sorry shape. The school district has considered options for upgrading the facility since 2005. But a survey of potential voters found that only about half would support a bond to pay for it, and with the worsening economy, officials decided not to push it.

Supporters formed a private group, the Turlock Turf Crew, to raise money for field projects at Turlock and Pitman high schools. Co-president Holly Evans told the board it has been slow going.

The City Council, acting as the Redevelopment Agency, included the renovation on a list of projects to be funded this year.

Evans encouraged the board to accept the money.

"This is a perfect opportunity for the school board to do a really good thing," she said.

Board member John Sims said the action taken Tuesday night is "to just pursue consideration of these funds from the city."

"There are still going to be hurdles that we're going to have to get through," Sims said. "One of those points ... could be a deal-killer."

Board president Timm LaVelle said he was not sure the district should be using public money for a project taxpayers don't support.

"The citizens of Turlock over many years have told us that through taxation of bonding they were not willing to support modernization of Joe Debely," he said. "I don't want the district to be perceived as taking money from other areas in the city that have a greater need or are in the RDA."

Other board members countered that while that's a legitimate concern, that's the city's responsibility.

Heidi McNally-Dial, economic development and redevelopment manager for the city, said there will be several meetings and public hearings where taxpayers will have the chance to debate the issue.

Sims asked McNally-Dial for a potential timeline. She said the state has to notify the city of its intent of taking RDA money by Nov. 15; RDA plans must be submitted to the state by Dec. 31, followed by further consideration by the school board and City Council.

"In a perfect world, we might be able to get something done next summer," Sims said. "Of course, we don't live in a perfect world."

Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at pguerra@modbee.com or 578-2343.

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