Kingston School Board trustees starting to doubt Dietz deal

(Photo by Dan Barton)

In April, Kingston City School District Superintendent Paul Padalino and Kingston Mayor Steve Noble expressed confidence that a deal to transfer full ownership of Dietz Stadium to the city was imminent.

Two months later, a deal has yet to be struck, and some members of the Board of Education are questioning whether the district should proceed.

Dietz Stadium opened in 1949, and four decades later the KCSD bought half of the facility for $10 in exchange for sharing in its expenses. Though most often used by the Kingston Tigers for everything from football to lacrosse to track and field, the grounds have gained recent fame as the home of Kingston Stockade FC, a successful semi-pro soccer team presently in the midst of its fourth season of operation. 

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At the heart of the transfer is around $2.1 million grant funding to renovate and improve Dietz Stadium, a project which is estimated to cost around $2.5 million. Renovating the aging stadium and its iconic stands has been frequently discussed by school officials over the years, but as with the city, the school district determined it could not easily receive funding for a facility it co-owns. Giving up their half of the stadium became the obvious choice, said Padalino, when it became clear that the renovations could be covered by a portion of the $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant the city received early last year.

But at May 22’s school board meeting, some trustees said they’d never seen any paperwork to indicate the transfer was necessary to secure the grant funding.

“I don’t think we ever got anything that said if they get a grant, they can only have the grant,” said board Vice-President Priscilla Lowe. “Is that in writing somewhere?” 

Trustee James Shaughnessy said he’s never understood why the district would give up its share of Dietz, as the joint ownership implies it isn’t exclusively a school district facility.

“I’ve been fundamentally opposed to this proposition since it was first proposed,” Shaughnessy said. “And even though it was adopted by the voters last year, I don’t think the voters were correctly informed. We were informed that it can only be done if they own 100 percent of the stadium because that was a state requirement. I don’t believe that that’s a state requirement. They’ve never shown us this. It’s not a school facility. It’s jointly owned. And I don’t think it makes sense for the school district to give up its primary athletic facility and not own it.”

Trustee the Rev. James Childs agreed.

“It was my understanding that the only reason for our turning this over to the city was because that was the only way that they could get that money through the grant,” said Childs. “If that’s not true then I don’t understand why we’re doing that either. I would be opposed to it.”

For the ownership transfer to go through, officials with the school district and city must first agree to the terms of the deal, which school officials said would be dependent upon district sporting events being given priority in event scheduling. In April, both Noble and Padalino said the expected the two parties to reach an agreement shortly.

“We have been working with the superintendent and his legal team to craft a memorandum of agreement, if you will, that kind of lays out usage of the stadium and the school district’s contribution,” said Noble in early April. “We’ve had a longstanding existing agreement, but we want to be able to update it to include the actual transfer of the deed.”

‘A little fuzzy’

But at the May 22 School Board meeting, Padalino said that negotiations were still ongoing. “There are two items that I don’t want to say are in dispute, but are a little fuzzy right now,” Padalino said.

Plans for renovations at Dietz include improvements to locker rooms and bathrooms ($1.65 million), new visitors bleachers and parking lot upgrades ($500,000), vending upgrades ($150,000), press box renovations ($86,000), a new public address system ($40,000), public Wi-Fi upgrades ($25,000) a storage shed ($25,000) and outdoor water fountains ($20,000).

The artificial turf was replaced in 2010, with Bruderhof-owned Community Playthings covering the roughly $634,000 cost. The track was replaced at around the same time, with the school district and city paying the $230,000 bill.

Shaughnessy said he understood the city’s motivation for wanting the deal to go through, but not the district’s.

“It’s in the interests of the city to use this money under any circumstances to improve the stadium because they want to bring business into Kingston,” Shaughnessy said.

Is it about the beer?

For the past month, Keegan Ales has set up a beer tent on site for Stockade FC home games, something that wasn’t allowed in the past because of the district’s part-ownership. Shaughnessy said he believed the sale of alcohol at Dietz was a motivating factor for Noble.

“I’ll just say it. I’ve always thought it was about beverage,” Shaughnessy said. “And that’s the fundamental reason that the mayor is pushing, as far as I’m concerned. And I’m not going to vote for it.”

This week, Noble said he believed the clearest path to revitalizing Dietz Stadium involved the city taking over full ownership and the district receiving priority access for athletic and other events, not unlike the current scenario.

“As part of the city’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative, the City of Kingston and our community stakeholders identified numerous deficiencies at Dietz Stadium,” Noble said. “I attribute most of those deficiencies to deferred capital investment in the stadium. I believe that is due to the unique management and ownership structure that has existed since the City of Kingston gave up full control of Dietz Stadium in the late 1980s and created the Dietz Stadium Commission. Since then, through the efforts of the Bruderhof and others, improvements have been made, but everyday challenges still exist. I, along with a majority of school district voters who participated in last year’s Dietz Stadium Ballot Initiative overwhelmingly agreed that single ownership of the stadium with the school district receiving the same, if not more access to the facility through a school district crafted [memorandum of agreement] made sense and was the best way forward with Dietz.”

Noble said he expected the ongoing discussion between the city and school district will eventually lead to the planned transfer.

“I am looking forward to continuing this conversation with the board and I stand ready to work diligently to design and build an improved Dietz Stadium for our community and I hope that members of the Kingston City School Board will join me in that effort,” he said.

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