The Muscogee County School District’s proposed $11 million sports complex in south Columbus, which has been threatened to not come to fruition due to slower-than-expected sales tax collections, could take a step forward if the school board approves the administration’s request to spend $50,000 for preliminary planning.
The proposed sports complex — comprising a football stadium, track, fieldhouse, multipurpose field and tennis courts — is supposed to be constructed on the site of the former Cusseta Road Elementary School. That’s adjacent to the new Spencer High School, a $56 million project scheduled to be finished in time for classes to restart in August.
The new Spencer and the sports complex are two of the 24 capital projects funded by the 1 percent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, which Columbus voters renewed in 2015. This SPLOST will last for five years or until $192,185,000 is collected, whichever comes first. But the pace of sales tax revenue indicates MCSD won’t receive the targeted money by July 2020, when this SPLOST will expire.
MCSD’s 2015 SPLOST collections through March 31 show revenue is $12.2 million less than the $102.5 million that was expected at that point. That’s a shortfall of 11.9 percent.
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The proposed sports complex has been planned to be among the last of the 24 capital projects funded by the 2015 SPLOST to get started. When other projects are completed under budget, the saved money can be used to supplement other projects if the scope or cost increases, such as the sports complex.
“As projects close out, we have funds available,” superintendent David Lewis told the Muscogee County School Board during its monthly work session Monday night. “We still believe we’ll move forward with that project. This is the first step in that.”
According to the work session’s agenda, the $50,000 would pay for “comprehensive programming, land planning, coordination with city planning for ingress and egress from Cusseta Road, working out issues relating to the wetlands and state waters, preliminary budgeting and schematics.”
The administration is recommending Sudhir Patel of Columbus as the architect and French & Associates of Columbus as the engineer for this preliminary work. The board is scheduled to vote on the request during its June 25 meeting, starting at 6 p.m.
Spending for the proposed sports complex was budgeted three years ago to break down this way:
▪ $7.7 million to build a football stadium with artificial turf, fieldhouses on both sides, a track and capacity for 4,000 fans, similar to Kinnett Stadium, adjacent to Shaw High School.
▪ $2 million for parking.
▪ $1 million for infrastructure.
▪ $300,000 to build an artificial turf field for soccer and other sports.
Monday night, MCSD athletics director Jeff Battles said the project’s scope has expanded to include tennis courts, although he didn’t mention the number of courts or the cost. Asked for that information, MCSD communications director Mercedes Parham told the Ledger-Enquirer in an email, “The scope of the project has not been completely defined at this time. Pending board approval, we will work with an architect and engineer to determine what is viable.”
Kia Chambers, the nine-member board’s chairwoman and lone countywide representative, asked Lewis whether MCSD still will complete this project.
“It’s still our plan to do so,” Lewis said.
Chambers expressed concern about approving an expenditure of “thousands and thousands and thousands” on a project that might not be finished. She also pressed the administration on a total cost of the expanded scope of the project.
“Prices change, programs change a little bit, so the cost will be a little bit more than $11 million,” Battles said.
Chambers again asked about the feasibility of approving this $50,000 expenditure without a guarantee the project will be completed.
Battles replied that hiring the architect and engineering firm will enable MCSD to have a better estimate for the cost of the project.
“Right now, we’re look at doing it in phases,” Battles said.
A football stadium and parking lot would be the first phase, followed by a multipurpose field and tennis courts in the final phase, he said.
“The first priority will be the stadium and related track and fieldhouse, as well as adequate parking and other amenities for public use,” the administration says in the agenda. “We propose contracting with the architect so that we can phase or terminate the work in the event that the project is delayed. The full project budget will be presented at a later date for approval.”
Lewis noted, “Regardless of when we do this project, whether it’s the next year or two years or whatever, this is the first step in the process.”
The superintendent sparked laughter in the room when he encouraged “everybody to go out and buy more stuff.”
The 2015 SPLOST allows MCSD to receive revenue from the 1 percent sales tax through July 2020. For the tax to continue past that date, the school district’s administration would have to recommend and the school board would have to authorize and Columbus voters would have to approve another SPLOST referendum.
Lewis said the administration still is “optimistic” that MCSD will have enough money to complete the project without another SPLOST.
District 1 representative Pat Hugley Green emphasized, “The statute requires us to do what we said we’re going to do. So if a project has been advertised and is on the SPLOST list, we have to do it. We don’t have a choice, unless the administration somehow determines that the project is no longer needed or no longer relevant.”
District 4 representative Naomi Buckner reminded folks at the meeting that “it took three SPLOSTs” to complete the $36 million Rainey-McCullers School of the Arts.