The renovation project at Dietz Stadium is underway, but repairing the relationship between the Kingston City School District (KCSD) and the City of Kingston may take some time.
At a recent meeting of the Kingston Board of Education, trustees expressed frustration with what they perceived as a lack of reliable information offered by the city with regard to project details and timelines, which they felt could have helped the district avoid some of the athletic field issues that plagued its spring season.
Project engineer Jack Schoonmaker discussed the current timeline at a meeting of the School Board held on Wednesday, August 9, saying that despite delays in getting started, Dietz Stadium should be ready for the start of the Fall 2024 athletic season.
“The contractors have all been aware and have signed on to contracts that give them a substantial completion deadline of August 30, 2024,” said Schoonmaker. “We will do everything in our power to make sure that that happens.”
But trustees said they were told on Friday, November 4, 2022 that they would need to clear all athletic equipment off of the Dietz site so work could get underway in the spring. Instead, the district opened its Spring 2023 season mostly on fields across the district and arranged for the Class of 2023 graduation ceremony to be held elsewhere before learning in April that they could use Dietz after all, but only after upgrading the turf to meet competition specs.
“As recently as May we were told, ‘The project is going to start next week,’” said school board vice-president Robin Jacobowitz. “As recently as May. It’s August…You understand why it’s a little bit hard to trust. We were told fall season ends, everyone out, it’s starting. And here we are…It’s August and we’re just starting now…It’s been extraordinarily frustrating.”
While school officials and trustees contend that the city wasn’t keeping the district up to speed on project developments, Kingston Mayor Steve Noble disagreed.
“Clearly internally between the superintendent (Paul Padalino) and the athletic director (Rich Silverstein) and the board, I don’t think that there was a lot of communication about the work that we were doing, even though the superintendent and the athletic director were intimately involved in our work,” Noble said. “I definitely got the sense that there were some internal communication issues there.”
District officials faced criticism from some members of the community about the condition of its athletic fields, with superintendent Paul Padalino acknowledging that their efforts to prepare them for the rigors of full athletic seasons between Fall 2022 and Spring 2023 were not successful. The district redoubled its efforts over the summer, working with Tom Irwin Advisors, a sports field and green space service, to implement strategies to ensure its fields are safe and ready for students.
Noble suggested that the KCSD underestimated what losing Dietz Stadium would do to its other facilities, adding that semi-pro soccer team Kingston Stockade FC had been more successful in dealing with having Dietz unavailable for its 2023 and 2024 campaigns by temporarily moving to Marist College in Poughkeepsie.
“The school district wasn’t quite expecting, I think, the number of impacts it would have on their fields, and their fields just weren’t ready to be able to handle it,” Noble said. “Whereas Stockade FC looked around, they found a good field at Marist and they were able to use it.”
Former School Board President James Shaughnessy criticized Noble and the city during the public comment period of the August 9 meeting, claiming that there was no need for the city to take on full ownership of Dietz Stadium to receive grant funding. The transfer of the district’s half-share of Dietz ownership was approved by a 1,673-413 public vote.
“We all know that in 2018, Steve Noble lied about needing to have full ownership to use DRI (Downtown Revitalization Initiative) funds for the stadium,” Shaughnessy said. “It’s outrageous that the mayor would lie to the public and the school district to take away ownership of its major sports facility. Maybe he also lied about the need for full managerial control. Not only is the city untruthful about the DRI, it seems incompetent in executing the renovation project.”
Noble disputed Shaughnessy’s claim that he’d lied about the ownership requirement and that he’d later lied about managerial control.
“From our perspective and from the state’s perspective, our contract with the state for the grant funds that we received has an ownership requirement,” Noble said. “And that was not clearly understood by the former school board president. But it literally says in the contract that the city shall have ownership over the area that you’re making using these state funds because the state also has the ability to come in and recoup said costs if you don’t keep it open to the public and don’t do all of these other things. It’s every state grant. I can’t use state grant money on something that I don’t own. And that’s why we went to the school district and to the voters of the district and asked, ‘Hey, we should need to own this. And the school district voters agreed substantially to have us transfer ownership.”
Noble said that after Shaughnessy balked at the arrangement during his time as school board president, the city had to come up with another solution to ensure they wouldn’t lose out on the necessary funding.
“We had to figure out with the state what would work if the school district board didn’t want to actually comply with what the voters had said,” Noble said. “And that’s where we got to this site control and management contract, that while we don’t technically have full ownership, which is what the state contracts state, at least we have during this process site control and management, so that the state knows that these funds are being managed by the same entity that has a contract with the state, and that we’re actually doing it the right way and following all of the state’s purchasing and bidding guidelines. And so we thankfully were able to figure that out. I mean, if not, we would’ve not had $5 million in grant funds to be able to use, which is what we use to design and for this project to move the different components forward.”
Noble said he believed the scope of the Dietz Stadium renovations may be a surprise to those who weren’t around the last time it happened.
“This is a project that only hopefully will have to happen once every 50 years or so,” Noble said. “No one was around when this had to happen at Dietz Stadium the last time in the ‘70s when all of this infrastructure was built. This is definitely the first for all of the board members to see and for many of the people in the community who haven’t had to see construction at this facility because there just hadn’t been any of real substance.”
Noble said that information has been available at every stage of the Dietz Stadium project, adding that trustees could have found their way to it.
“School Board members just were not engaged during really any of the public meetings or during any of the work,” Noble said. “I’m not sure how many of them actually went to our Engage Kingston website (https://engagekingston.com/dietz-stadium-improvements) and saw all the updates that we were putting there. And I do think that my project manager did a good job of going through the design process and all of the things that were added to the stadium, many of which were at the school district’s bequest, which actually did raise costs for the project.”
Noble echoed Schoonmaker’s claim that Dietz Stadium will be ready for the Fall 2024 athletic season.
“Our contracts with our current contractors say that substantial completion of the turf/track is scheduled for August 30th, 2024,” Noble said. “There will be parking lot improvements and some of the outbuildings still being worked on, but we do expect that the turf and track will be ready to be used for the fall season.”