March 20, 2017 • Athletic Administration

8 steps to a successful facilities project

So you need replace that old field, pool or gym? How about lights, bleachers or a new scoreboard? Is funding this project in your budget? Probably not. In that case, how will you pay for it? How about the plans and construction timetable?

Those are a lot of questions. That’s because renovating a facility is not something that just happens without planning — lots of planning.

Having deep-pocket alum drop all the money you need to fund a new project or renovation is not something that typically happens. Taking a project from funding to ground breaking to completion requires the athletic director to do a lot of heavy lifting (sometimes literally). Based on personal experience, I propose eight steps to take a renovation project from start to finish. Of course, how quickly a school can progress through these steps can vary greatly based on numerous factors including need, importance, potential funding sources and, of course, politics.

Steps to a successful project

1. Need. This may be the easiest step. If you have more bare spots than grass on your main field and the surface becomes a mud bowl with every rainfall, it might be time for an upgrade. The same goes if your pool is closed for repair as often as it is open for use. I experienced both of these situations and quickly moved on to step two.

2. Proposal. A proposal is not a final plan. It’s simply a pitch to show that there is a need for an upgrade. This may be the most important step, because if you can’t show the need or present a vision of what you would like, the dream dies right there. 

Do your homework. Take field trips to other facilities to see what strikes your fancy and what would meet your program’s needs and what would be acceptable for your community. For example, we had a six-lane pool to renovate, and we wanted to convert it to an eight-lane pool with a diving well. That did not fit into the plans so we refocused our sights.

By either taking photos of other facilities or working with a local contractor, you need to provide something depicting your vision for the facility. Including all stakeholders is a must. Coaches, administrators, parents, students and board members, if possible, should be included so all voices are heard. When the proposal is formally made, those are the ones who are affected both on the field and in the pocketbook.

3. Funding. Aside from alum dropping a few million dollars in your lap, your dream could fall apart without a game plan for funding. 

For our field project — turf, lights, track and dugouts — we went to the community to vote for a bond to fund the entire cost. For our pool project, we again went out for a bond a few years later, but this time the bond was for 50 percent of the cost, as our town parks department put up the rest in exchange for usage rights. A neighboring district did the same thing with its baseball field and local Little League. 

  » RELATED: Athletic facilities projects are best served by committees of parents, coaches

The concern here lies in having a clear usage/priority plan to avoid conflicts and hard feelings. While some states do not allow it, some schools may benefit from corporate donors or sponsors for some type of naming rights. Check your regulations before going down that road.

Photo: New Castle High School

4. Selling. Now you see the need, have a strong proposal for what you’d like and the district decision makers have settled on a way to fund the project. Now you must sell it to the community, which will likely pay for it. 

The “traveling road show” you embark on may last weeks or months, depending on how far out your vote date is and how much community support you have. Calling meetings with all district stakeholders is a must: coaches, parents, civic groups, PTA, booster clubs. They can be your greatest allies.

Don’t underestimate your senior citizens. They are on fixed incomes and don’t have children who will be playing on your beautiful new fields. You should be ready for questions from supporters and opponents alike. 

If you and the district have done the homework, you should be able to address questions regarding building codes, wear and tear, and usage. The “road show” could result in some concessions on your part to keep the project alive.

5. Planning. Your project funding has been approved. Now members of your proposal team become part of your planning team. Working with the project manager, you work on items both simple (how high should the outfield fence be?) and challenging (where do you want the jumping pits, scoreboard or flag pole?). 

Depending on the state, final construction plans may have to go to the state education department for engineering approval.

6. Scheduling. A field or pool renovation does not happen overnight. You are likely to interfere with the season of the sport you are trying to help. In that case, creative scheduling is a must. 

During our pool renovation, our boys swim team practiced at a neighboring school and scheduled a season entirely on the road. Our field renovation lasted from February through August, opening in time for the fall season. In that case, our spring teams played a heavy road schedule while practicing and playing a few games on the town’s recreation fields. 

The thing to remember is there may be an added cost to your budget due to facility rental fees and an increase in your transportation needs. In subsequent years we hosted a local high school football season and college men’s lacrosse season while their facilities were being renovated. 

7. Adjusting. The term “change order” is not one boards of education like to hear. It can mean more spending or more time on a project. Worse yet, it could mean the project was not properly planned out. 

A few years ago, a neighboring school district had a field renovation. In their short sightedness, they did not include the athletic director in much of the planning. The result was a beautiful field with no bleachers. 

While they saw the small picture of upgrading their playing surface, they never bothered to look at the big picture and wound up having to wait two years to find the funding to purchase new bleachers. Imagine what the rivalry football game looked like with no bleachers and lawn chairs everywhere. Our school district was not perfect either. We left off a new scoreboard, but were lucky enough to secure funding before having to use a flip chart to tell score.

8. Play ball! Congratulations, you did it! You weathered the storm, you made your case, organized your team, made your pitch, rolled up your sleeves and got it done. 

Depending on weather, overruns, dreaded change orders and the absolute unexpected, your actual project may take four to eight months. And the total time from need identification to project completion may have taken years, but in the end it was worth it.

Now you have to figure out an opening ceremony that everyone will remember. That decision can me made later. For now just relax, enjoy the fruits of your labor and take care of that new facility. You don’t want to go through this all over again.

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