Francis Howell High School will get a new on-campus athletic complex.
After two meetings filled with lengthy discussions about the project, the Board of Education approved the complex with a 6-1 vote. Board Treasurer Mike Hoehn, an outspoken opponent of the project because of what he considered safety issues, was the lone dissenting vote.
The new complex will contain two baseball fields (one for varsity and one for junior varsity), a softball field and a football practice field. Howell currently has just one field for all sports to use, which has made scheduling at the school a challenge. The projected cost of the complex comes in $2.4 million and will be paid with money the District received from a 2008 bond issue.
Joining the fields on the site will be a new school bus park lot that will house 50-plus buses. The bus lot, and not the fields, caused Hoehn to vote against the project.
The layout of the complex has a road stretching the length of the property, separating the fields from the rest of the school. At the very end of the road sits the bus lot, meaning the 50-plus buses would travel the length of the complex every time they are coming and going to the lot. Hoehn said with frequent practices and games, the buses traveling around students would be unsafe.
Hoehn tried unsuccessfully to split the issue—he made a motion to get the Board to vote on the fields first and then the bus lot. He said the District could build the fields and then find an alternative site to house the buses displaced if the lot at Howell wasn't built. Hoehn said the Central School Road lot and a maintenance lot could support more buses.
"If we have to spend a few dollars more to ensure student safety" he said. "I say we spend a few dollars more."
Chief Financial Officer Kevin Supple said he wasn't sure if the project could be split up. He also said he was unsure if Hoehn's alternatives would be viable.
"There's a lot of things that are up in the air with choosing an alternative site," Board member Mark Lafata said, echoing Supple.
Board member Marty Hodits refuted the safety claim. He pointed out that a similar setup exists at Francis Howell North. Every day students have to cross a road to Henderson Elementary that is frequently occupied with buses, parents and other students.
"We have not had an incident," Hodits said.
Hodits said that if the safety at Howell is so dire, the situation at Howell North should be addressed first since it already exists and isn't in planning stages.
"If we wanna make the buses at Howell a safety issue, we should table everything at Howell and go to North and tear everything up," he said. "… We have a better chance of students getting hurt there."
Hoehn's motion to split the issue failed with him being the lone supporter.
Following the defeat of Hoehn's motion, the Board voted on the original $2.4 million proposal. After all the votes were tallied, only Hoehn opposed the complex.