Rather than asking questions that would establish clarity around school construction projects, school board members Leah Crowley and Deanna Kaplan often use public forums to try and gain ground for a privately designed stadium for Reynolds on the Wiley campus. Unfortunately, their maneuvers sometimes create a smoke screen of confusion.
The most recent example was in the April 9 meeting of the Board’s Building and Grounds Committee, when Ms. Crowley questioned the value of the Hanes Park User Agreement, which allows WS/FCS to use the city-owned park. The park’s land has been peacefully shared with schools for nearly 100 years, and the User Agreement has been in place for at least 50 years, renewed at regular intervals.
WS/FCS operations staff and city representatives concur that the agreement continues to be mutually beneficial, and it is expected to be renewed this year without changes. However, Ms. Crowley complained that the User Agreement does not meet the needs of Reynolds athletics and went on to suggest, “[Hanes Park] exists to serve the schools” and that “it is great to be able to share [our facilities] with the public.” This completely mischaracterizes the agreement, which clearly states that Hanes Park is for public use and is a City-owned and City-controlled asset.
The agreement simply confirms that any proposal for permanent changes to the park would need to go through a wide public process involving neighborhoods and certain city commissions; any new facilities would be built at the expense of the WS/FCS and the assets would become the property of the City. Conversely, any permanent changes proposed by the City would be submitted to the schools for review.
A model example of this collaborative planning was the recent development of the Hanes Park Repair and Improvement Plan, which resulted in a better softball field and other improvements that were designed to benefit not only citizens but also school sports teams.
If used wisely, the same framework could result in even more gains for school athletics, such as a grass playing field capable of hosting lacrosse, field hockey, and soccer for Wiley and Reynolds. This could be achieved in tandem with the scheduled Wiley gym rebuild.
Instead, a private fundraising group, Reynolds Home Field Advantage, has hired a firm to provide architectural drawings of a sports facility that would have cost an estimated $6.2 million to build, would have put much of the Wiley campus behind a fence, and has proven to be a deeply divisive proposal. The documents were approved by the School Board in October 2018, but they have not been approved for construction, have no funding attached and they have not been approved by the City. For now, those drawings are nothing more than a big stack of papers.
But in Tuesday’s committee meeting, Ms. Kaplan attempted to present the plan as if it were a done deal, asking if any amendments would be needed to “accommodate the new Reynolds stadium.” Her question assumes a future for the privately designed stadium. Making this statement part of school board records might have been her true purpose. Regardless of her specific intent, it has become clear that Kaplan and Crowley bring their special interest to the table at almost every opportunity.