The temperature between the Kingston City School District (KCSD) and the City of Kingston over the full management oversight of the Dietz Stadium renovation project has risen almost as sharply as the plan’s costs, with the Board of Education last week agreeing to seek an extension with the city that would allow them to scupper the arrangement.
On October 11, 2019, the KCSD signed an inter-municipal agreement authorizing the city to oversee the renovation project as a means of tapping into $2.5 million of state Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) funding. The transfer of the district’s half-share of Dietz ownership was approved by a 1,673-413 public vote. At the time, the cost of the Dietz project was estimated at $18.7 million; those costs have since risen to around $26 million, and school officials have expressed concern that they have no seat at the table and want assurances they aren’t on the hook for more than their estimated contribution of $9 million.
The unanimous vote held during a school board meeting on Wednesday, August 23 authorized board president Marie Anderson to sign an addendum to the inter-municipal Dietz Stadium agreement in the hopes of being able to work with city officials to extend the deadline by three months to not renew the deal.
“What we’re doing is we’re extending the amount of time that we would need to terminate so that we don’t have to terminate this August, but have an additional 90 days to work with the city, who we think can continue to be great partners,” said trustee Marc Rider.
Anderson said the school board was concerned about the rising costs of the project, but had other motivations for seeking a change as well.
“I think it’s important that we negotiate going forward and continue to hold our interests, especially fiduciary interests, and also our interest in making sure that our students are first priority,” she said. “So hopefully we’ll be able to continue talking to the city over these next few months.”
At an August 9 meeting of the school board, 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.
At that meeting, Dietz project engineer Jack Schoonmaker discussed the current timeline, 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.
At that meeting, they also shared concerns about increasing costs, particularly as they had no control over them. At the August 23 meeting, trustee Suzanne Jordan said she hoped the city would understand where the district was coming from.
“I think it’s really important that we have more time to fill in the gaps that the board sees in terms of being able to make sure that we have the ability to authorize any future expenditures and to make sure that we protect the rights and the ability of our students to continue to use the stadium at whatever rate they need,” Jordan said. “I’m in favor of this and hope that the common council will be able to meet so that we can have kind of a win-win where everybody’s needs are met thoroughly and particularly for the benefit of our students.”
The Board of Education is hoping the city will respond before the end of August, and a special common council meeting scheduled for Wednesday, August 30 may give them that answer.
On Friday, August 25, Mayor Steve Noble released a statement calling the school board’s decision a “manufactured controversy” “meant to skew attention from their obvious lack of readiness for this years-in-the-making project to begin.”
“Not only as mayor, but as a KCSD parent, I am extremely disappointed in the school board’s pointless accusations and clear obfuscation of their own unpreparedness,” wrote Noble. “The school board has had ample opportunity to prepare for the construction at Dietz Stadium, to secure fields for their athletics programs, and to ensure those fields were up to the standards that Kingston students deserve. In fact, the agreement stated that the school district would have a representative on the City of Kingston’s Recreation Commission to weigh in on Dietz Stadium issues and keep the board apprised, yet the board has not had a liaison present at these meetings in years.”
Noble went on to say that despite the district’s minimal involvement, the Dietz Stadium project has moved forward over the past few years through the efforts of the city to secure grant funding.
“Now, as construction gets underway, we have 11th hour finger-pointing and threats from the school board to pull funding from this project,” Noble wrote. “A project that would restore a crumbling facility for the good of its students and the entire community…While the city has taken reasonable steps toward necessary progress on this important project, rather than collaborate for success, the school board is now pushing for delay.”
Noble noted that signs of progress like the track, administrative building and snack shack being taken down, could be upended by the district’s actions.
“(T)hese petty allegations, which have already shortchanged students and families, will only waste more time,” Noble wrote. “While the school board’s concerns are unfounded, and we do not expect the Dietz Stadium project to need additional funding, if some future unanticipated request for additional funding should arise, I will work with the common council the school board to address any unforeseen issues.”