October 6, 2012 • Athletic Administration

Starting from scratch

Ohio’s Streetsboro High School wins community, board support to renovate ‘deplorable’ facilities

If your football stadium includes a grass field and sturdy field goal posts, it’s already miles ahead of Streetsboro High School’s facility one year ago.

Those simple necessities were considered more of a luxury at the Ohio school, located about 30 miles southeast of Cleveland. The “deplorable” conditions of Streetsboro’s facilities almost forced Randy Tevepaugh to turn down the athletic director position when offered it last year. But after accepting the challenge, Tevepaugh and his staff put in motion a renovation project they hope raises morale and strengthens an already healthy bond between the community and school district.

“I saw the condition of the athletic facilities as an opportunity and a challenge,” says Tevepaugh, who developed a master plan for the athletics facilities that ultimately won unanimous approval from the school board. “Not only will the renovation project be special for our district and students, but a sense of pride will resonate throughout our community.

“I purchased flags and new goal pads for the stadium; it’s going to be immaculate when the project is complete.”

Beginning to rebuild

Tevepaugh vividly recalls just how bad the school’s playing field got last year. As unfortunate as it is, the field’s condition may have helped in building a case and winning community support for a renovation.

Unlike this year when drought conditions gripped much of the country, northern Ohio battled flooding last year. The field at Streetsboro High School had a poor drainage system and as rain continued to fall the field slowly became a mud pit, making playing conditions messy and sometimes comical.

(From left) Streetsboro High School assistant principal James Hogue, school board members Kevin Grimm, Denise Baba, Cindy Pennock-Hanish, John Kelly and principal Eric Rauschkolb cut the ribbon on the school’s new football field in August.

“The last couple of games of the season, you couldn’t throw the ball and could barely run,” says Tevepaugh. “The announcers couldn’t tell what number the players were, and by the end of the game they couldn’t tell what team they were on–the white jerseys and blue jerseys were all mud. And they couldn’t chalk the field because it was all water and mud, so the lining machine wouldn’t work. It was bad.”

The conditions were never an extreme risk to player safety, but they were getting to that point, officials say. The school wanted to address the issue to not only benefit student-athletes but give the community the facility they felt it deserved.

Plans for the renovation began in August 2011, when Tevepaugh says he gathered the athletic department’s stakeholders to begin a “needs assessment.” That group included his staff, administrators, school board members and the community. Considering their feedback, he drafted a master plan for the project.

What that plan entailed was a renovated field, new bleachers to allow for greater capacity, an eight-lane track, updated press box and new lighting. Tevepaugh brought the plan to the school board, which approved an operating levy for permanent improvements. School board president Kevin Grimm says the decision did not raise taxes on the community and the board approved funds for improvements throughout the district, including technology.

The football field was in rough shape, and it was considered a priority. Even the field goal posts were inadequate before they were replaced last year. Supervisor of maintenance Jim Washinski said the posts were constructed decades earlier with four-inch gas line pipe. They didn’t meet regulations, but when officiating crews showed up Friday night for a football game, they didn’t any options other than to proceed.

When the time came to take the goalposts down, Washinski said all he had to do was shake them a bit and they toppled to the ground.

“The whole stadium was in horrible condition, and the field was almost unplayable last year,” Grimm says. “This is what we can do to improve it for the near future, but it’s not what we want to see as a finished product.”

Streetsboro High School broke the renovation into two phases. The first, completed late this summer, focused efforts on the field and bleachers. Washinski said the sod was stripped from the field before crews laid a mixture of sand and topsoil. It was then laser-leveled, putting a crown back on the field.

Excessive rain created many of the problems last year, but the field’s faulty infrastructure didn’t help. If those conditions return, school officials are now confident they’ll avoid a similar mess.

“We’re hoping last year was an anomaly with the rain, and every school around here had the same problem,” Washinski says. “Everyone was cancelling their games because their fields were deemed unplayable or unsafe.”

The second phase, which is expected to begin this spring, includes the updated lighting and new track. Today the track is compacted dirt, which Tevepaugh says helps avoid injuries like shin splints. The stadium’s light posts are made of wood, and over the years they’ve shifted, turning light away from the field.

Winning support

Though the economy is showing signs of recovery, progress is slow and it’s still difficult for most to justify large capital projects with little disposable cash. But it can be done.

Streetsboro High School already had a good case. The community saw first-hand the condition of the field and the risk it posed to student-athletes. All the school district needed to do was draft a reasonable plan and sell it to its stakeholders.

Tevepaugh describes the school board as proactive and eager to move the district forward within the constraints of its budget. He adds that decisions are community-driven, and without the support of parents and taxpayers it would be almost impossible to achieve capital improvements.

Putting a coherent plan in place is a great start, but communicating the district’s needs to stakeholders is the key to garnering support, Washinski says. Once you’re able to explain your agenda and put it in context for the average person, they begin to buy in.

Streetsboro High School spent $330,000 to replace the home- and visitor-side bleachers and purchase a new press box.

“I think if you just go out there and say, ‘hey, I need some money to do some things,’ they’re going to be skeptical of you,” he says. “If you give a good reason and sound evidence behind everything and you’re confident, they’ll embrace it. And they have.

“You’re always going to have detractors, but I have not heard one word of this being a waste of money.”

One of the ways Washinski was able to achieve community support was to simply put the plan in layman’s terms. Discussions about tax levies and catch basins can confuse average stakeholders, but if the plans are relatable more people understand the project’s direction and the reason certain decisions are made.

The school district also published a one-page letter on its website listing five frequently asked questions and the school system’s response to each of them.

“I say we’ll spend more money seal coating the parking lot or fixing a roof,” he says. “I think what happens at a lot of districts is they’re so afraid to spend that money, but you have to spend that money now. If you don’t, you’re going to pay for it later.”

Another minor detail that helped Streetsboro sell the project to the community was making it open to the public. The track is being constructed for the betterment of the athletics department, but Tevepaugh made it clear he wants the community using it during weekends for exercise. He embraces an open-door policy, and the public is welcome to come and view the renovation’s progress anytime it wishes.

Managing costs & obstacles

One of the great challenges facing those undergoing renovation projects is to minimize costs while ensuring the school district it receives a quality product.

Those measures were taken from the beginning at Streetsboro High School. The initial plan included artificial turf, but Tevepaugh says he abandoned that idea after discovering the cost would be around $600,000, taking the total price of the renovation to nearly $1.5 million. The new sod, including the drainage infrastructure, came in at around $50,000.

Most of the project’s funding came from the tax levy, but the district did what it could to find outside sources to minimize the burden. Tevepaugh says the district received some corporate sponsorship, but not a significant amount. He also was able to expand the weight room through a $28,000 grant from Home Depot.

“You look for every revenue source you can find, and you can’t always lean on the back of volunteers and your student-athletes selling candy bars,” he says. “That helps, but for the amount of work we needed done, which is pretty significant, we needed (more).”

One of the early obstacles Tevepaugh ran into was removal of the school’s bleachers. The plan was to move the existing home bleachers to the visitor’s side and install new, larger-capacity bleachers and a press box at a cost of around $330,000. However, moving the home bleachers meant the school would have to spend extra money to make them compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Because the cost was so high, the department determined it would be more worthwhile to purchase new bleachers for both sides and scrap the old ones.

Tevepaugh says one of the mistakes he made early in the process was not bringing an engineer on board. He didn’t know about the ADA compliance issue until months into the renovation, and having the help of an expert early on would have saved them some grief.

“It’s good to get those folks involved when they do this on a regular basis,” Tevepaugh says. “I don’t fix my own car because there are people that do that professionally and know what they’re doing.

“Getting an engineer or architect involved in the planning process probably would have been a better idea from our perspective.”

Washinski says it’s equally as important to take into account the small things and the amount of work they require. The new press box is more than walls and a roof–Washinski deals with electrical wiring, the PA system, speakers, Internet connections and the weather delays that slow everything down. Then it all has to be tested and in working order.

“There is no magic to just plug it in and you’re ready to go,” he says.

A ‘free’ scoreboard

One of Streetsboro’s biggest accomplishments during the renovation was securing a new scoreboard with no out-of-pocket cost–something Tevepaugh initially believed was “too good to be true.”

Streetsboro High School’s renovation included new bleachers and sod. The school also will receive a new scoreboard to replace the one pictured above.

Side Effects, an Ohio-based company, enters agreements with schools providing them with a free scoreboard in return for the advertising revenue. Tevepaugh says there are nine advertising squares on the scoreboard sold for $2,000, three-year commitments. Side Effects sells the advertisements–to both local and national companies–and takes its share out of the revenue.

“This presented itself and I said, ‘wow, who wouldn’t do this?'” Tevepaugh says. “I’m shocked more people don’t participate in this program. They solicit the advertising, but the district ultimately approves the advertisement that goes on the board. We felt real comfortable with the people. It worked for them, and it worked with us.

“After the material and installation costs are covered, the district shares the advertising revenue for the next 10 years.”

The scoreboard in August had not yet been installed, but Tevepaugh was hoping to have it done after the first week of the football season. Side Effects does not erect the scoreboard until all nine advertising slots are sold, and Tevepaugh said they were one short after a company backed out.

It’s true the scoreboard isn’t “free” in the true meaning of the word, but by not having to pay up-front costs it provides flexibility for the athletics department to invest elsewhere. It also shows that it’s committed to finding the most efficient way to improve its facilities.

Tevepaugh plans to continue that theme when purchasing new weight room equipment, which he hopes to do in the near future. He says the school will try to bring in most of that money with fundraising and booster club efforts.

“We’re not going to look back,” he says. “We’re going to look forward and keep it positive. It’s depressing to look where this district has been, but we also have a very optimistic future. We have nowhere to go but up.”

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