By CARL SMITH
City school and recreation officials say the addition of six tennis court’s to Starkville High School’s facility could draw regional teams to the city for tournaments, which in turn could help boost 2 percent food, beverage and hotel tax revenues.
SHS athletic director Stan Miller will present three sports facilities improvement proposals, including the addition of tennis courts, to the Starkville School District Board of Trustees during its regular 6 p.m. meeting today at the Greensboro Center.
In addition to the extra tennis courts, Miller’s proposal includes upgrades to the SHS track and football field.
Currently, six courts are located at the school district’s tennis facility. Miller said 12 courts would be ideal for large, multi-day tournaments.
“The six courts we have are great, but if you’re going to hold any kind of district, regional or state tournament, we have to have more courts,” Miller said. “With tournaments, they’re more than just one-day events. People come to town and will stay in our hotels and eat at our restaurants. When you put on these tournaments, people will spend money in your town.”
Starkville Parks and Recreation Director Matthew Rye said the city, school district and Starkville Tennis Association enjoy a relationship which allows school athletics, STA and the general public to use the facilities as they become available. Miller said the city itself has a strong, growing tennis-playing community.
A letter of support for the project was drafted by Starkville Parks and Recreation, Rye said.
“In an ideal world, we would love to have a standalone tennis facility; however, the partnership we have with SSD and STA where each of us own a third of the high school facilities is a great partnership,” Rye said. “Our support letter says the additions are something we’d be willing to seek ways to help fund the project if possible. We’re in a support mode right now, but we’re not at the exact point where we can help fund the project.”
Jennifer Gregory, Greater Starkville Development Partnership vice president for tourism, said multi-day sporting events not only help increase the city’s tax revenues, but also serve as a great recruiting tool for the city, county and university.
“When there are 15-20 soccer teams that come into the community for tournaments, the hotel tax and the food and beverage tax collection significantly increase in that time period. Teams travel with coaches, players, parents and siblings, so they stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants and shop in our stores,” Gregory said. “A potential increase in any sort of sporting facility would be beneficial to the entire community because it gives us a chance to show off our city. It’s a great recruiting tool.”
Miller’s other two sports-related improvement proposals include adding an all-weather surface to the SHS track and transitioning the football field from natural grass to an artificial turf surface.
The track’s current surface, Miller said, is “basically asphalt with paint on top,” which has prevented the school from holding major track meets.
“Since 2000, we’ve had state championships, but we have not been able to run a real meet at our facility,” Miller said. “Most teams don’t want to come in because of the asphalt and the running conditions it provides athletes.”
As for the football field, Miller said its age and deterioration are both to a point where a major project is necessary. SHS football and soccer teams use the field for their matches.
“Our field is 12 years old, its irrigation system needs replacing and its drainage system is not good,” Miller said. “Most Class 5- and 4-A schools are moving toward synthetic fields. We could get a 10- to 14-year lifespan out of a synthetic field with the technology we have now. And once it does need replacing, all we’d have to do is replace the top layer, which will be cheaper than a major field project.”
Miller did not provide an exact cost for each project but said the district could look to outside sources for funding.
Following Miller’s proposals, SSD Assistant Superintendent Walter Gonsoulin will discuss proposed projects for 2012-2013 and a three-year facilities improvement plan. Gonsoulin said the three-year plan includes athletic improvements highlight by Miller and other issues not solved by the previous bond issue.
“When we did the bond issue, we had a checklist of projects we needed to tend to. We did a lot of things with the bond issue, but we still have needs across the board in the district,” Gonsoulin said. “Prior to the bond issue, we didn’t have a long-term project rotation plan. When we came up for the bond, we had so many renovation projects which were needed that we couldn’t get to every one of them.”
Gonsoulin said the three-year plan could include athletic facility needs — the football field, the track and an addition to the tennis courts — roof work at Millsaps Career and Technical Center, renovations at SHS’s White House and fencing needs around the high school.
Gonsoulin said research is needed to see how the district would fund such projects, but options could include tapping into the SSD general fund and seeking outside donations.
“The school district should never let there be a year where we’re not making an enhancement to our facilities. It’s cheaper to maintain than it is to fully repair. If something breaks, it can cost you much more than if you do preventative maintenance on those things. If the funding is available, you then do the enhancement projects,” Gonsoulin said. “As the district goes forward, its project list should continue to adapt and evolve to meet school district needs. If you don’t put it down on paper, you’ll never get it done.”
SSD Board President Keith Coble said discussion on athletic department needs and the three-year projects plan is needed as the district solidifies its future budget.
“Around this time last year, we had many choices to make as we finalized the bond. We chose to air condition all of the district’s gymnasiums except one, and the field house was another big ticket item. We’re at the stage now where we’re looking to see what we can do since the bond projects are completed,” Coble said. “We’re not there yet, but I think all of this information is needed going into the budget season. I think having these plans which address future growth and need are important because we have to make sure we maintain what we have already in the district.”