Opinion

Is new turf needed?

Why doesn't the Rock Hill school board take that $1 million some members want to spend on artificial turf and a new scoreboard for District Three stadium and put it to better use on something that directly benefits education? Well, it may not be that simple.

Critics rose up immediately to protest a proposal by the district to spend as much as $1 million on eternally green artificial turf for the stadium and a large electronic scoreboard with a TV screen that could replay what has occurred on the field. The money would come from a $2.5 million to $3 million surplus from last year.

The critics, including at least one board member, say the money could be better used on academic needs or district operations. And the critics may have a point; board members need to evaluate priorities before sinking $1 million into improving a stadium used primarily for football and not much else.

But two factors must be taken into account: One, the surplus money can be spent only on non-recurring needs; and, two, proponents of the scoreboard-and-turf plan say the investment ultimately would pay for itself.

A requirement to spend the money on non-recurring needs means board members are not free to use the surplus for programs that will entail salary expenses, equipment purchases or other annual expenses in the future. The money must be used on a one-time-only expense.

District officials have estim- ated that maintenance costs alone over 10 years would exceed the cost of installing artificial turf, which requires little maintenance and can be used in all weather conditions. Artificial turf also would expand the range of events that could be held at the stadium year 'round, including football tournaments, band competitions, national soccer tournaments and others.

The scoreboard, according to supporters, not only would pay for itself but eventually would become a revenue producer for the district. The scoreboard, which could cost up to $350,000 initially, could bring in about $150,000 a year in advertising revenue. Once the installation cost is covered, the scoreboard would make money.

But Jim Vining, the only board member to speak out last week against the stadium upgrades, suggested that, if the improvements are expected to pay for themselves, the district could take out a separate loan to pay for them. Then, the surplus money could be used for other purposes.

We agree that a better football stadium may not be the highest priority for the district. We hope district officials have fully explored other non-recurring uses for the money. Could it be used for security cameras on school buses and in school buildings? Could it be used to improve athletic facilities that might benefit a larger number of students? How about one-time training programs for teachers or supplies for the new elementary school mentoring program?

If the scoreboard and turf will pay for themselves in less than 10 years, it is hard to object to the investment. But the district has a variety of other academic needs that might be met with this money.

Vining may be right. If the stadium upgrades are self-financing, why not take out a loan to pay for them? Unless the district has exhausted all the academic options for which the surplus might be used, it is hard to endorse using it for the stadium.

IN SUMMARY

Is plan for artificial turf and a new scoreboard best use of district's surplus money?

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