Sammamish rebuffs Skyline field plan

June 22, 2010

By Ari Cetron

Jacob Kuper threatened the Issaquah School District might take its ball and go home if it didn’t get the changes it wants to an agreement governing the use of the fields at Skyline High School.

“We could rescind our interlocal agreement and there would be no community hours — not that we want to do that, but legally it is an option,” said Kuper, chief financial officer for the district.

Kuper was quickly shut down by Sammamish City Manager Ben Yazici, who told him he wasn’t going to discuss the threat and he doubted it actually was a legal option.

Kuper later apologized for being “brusque,” as the council also cooled down during a sometimes-heated June 15 meeting.

The community fields at Skyline are used by about a half-dozen school sports teams in the fall and spring seasons. The district owns the land.

In 2006, the city made a deal with the district. The city would install lights and turf on the fields (at a cost of about $2.4 million) and in exchange would gain use of the fields after the school was finished. The school would have the fields until 5 p.m., and the city would take over at 5:15 p.m. The city then agreed with the neighbors adjacent to the fields that the lights would be turned off by 9 p.m.

Sammamish is generally responsible for maintaining the fields, although the schools step in to help from time to time. In exchange, the city keeps the money generated by rental fees. Typically, the city spends between $100,000 and $120,000 per year on maintenance and takes in $140,000 in fees.

Sammamish Parks Director Jessi Richardson cautioned, however, that the costs do not include setting aside money for replacement of the turf, which is expected to wear out within 10 years. For the city to truly break even on the fields, they would need to net about $100,000 per year.

Things are changing on the school’s end. By moving the freshmen from Pacific Cascade Freshman Campus to Skyline, Athletic Director Kevin Rohrich estimated there would be more than 100 more athletes needing to use those fields.

To allow them time to practice, the district proposed being allowed an extra hour of field time, and then leaving the lights on an hour later.

Neighbors in the area were up in arms about the idea of the lights staying on. They note that while the fields may have been there before they bought their homes, the lights came after. They say that the lights and associated noise and commotion make it difficult for them and their children to sleep, and they were unwilling to go an hour later.

Kuper was unsympathetic to the residents.

“We all make choices about where to buy houses,” he said.

The council was unhappy with the proposal.

Councilwoman Nancy Whitten noted that the city would either have to lose playing time or have its residents suffer the impacts of more lighting, but the schools would not make any sacrifices.

She was also upset that Kuper didn’t seem willing to compromise.

“I guess what I’m really concerned about is you only presented us with one possible solution,” Whitten said.

She suggested there might be a compromise or other options that the schools had not explored.

“I think there are ways we can work together,” she said. “It just needs to be thought through a little more.”

Councilman Mark Cross noted that changing the agreement might set a bad precedent with other neighborhoods where the city might want to install lights in the future. It is important, he said, for the city to keep its word on such deals.

Cross then proposed a compromise solution of offering the school an extra half-hour, but not changing the time the lights would go off for the next two years. During that time, the city and district would try to find a more permanent solution.

School officials were not excited about not getting the full amount of time, and tried to negotiate for more, but the council held firm.

In parting, Whitten noted that if the schools did want to go the route of pulling out of the agreement, the city would likely look to be compensated for some of the cost involved in installing the lights and field.

School district staff members are reviewing the proposal and the earliest Kuper would likely present it to the Issaquah School Board is in July.

Ari Cetron: 392-6434, ext. 233, or samrev@isspress.com. Comment at ww.issaquahpress.com.

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