Northgate moves ahead with lights

The Northgate football team may be playing home games under those “Friday night lights” next year. The district's school board voted unanimously Monday to move ahead with a modified field rehabilitation project estimated to cost somewhere in the area of $1.1 million.

The move came at the board's regular meeting, held one week after a similar motion was defeated in a 4-3 vote. The original motion included a $600,000 project to better secure the entryways at all three Northgate schools, as well as field renovations estimated to cost $1.5 million.

The board heard from parents of Northgate football players as well as head coach Michael Fulmore, who just wrapped up a rocky first season at Northgate that saw the winless Flames field as few as a dozen players for some games. Player mom Michelle Cooper said that “we need a new stadium” to get players to join the team. Jack Davin, whose son started as quarterback but was sidelined with an injury for much of the season, said that “People lost their hearts for these teams” over the past two years when Northgate first played at J.C. Stone Field in North Park, and then went to Saturday afternoon games at Alumni Field in Bellevue. “The difference is amazing,” Davin said.

They found an advocate in board member Jennifer McWilliams. “There was something missing the last two years,” she said. McWilliams said that attendance was significantly decreased this past season, so much so that the district lost $1,000 per home game at the gate. She urged board members to think of the district “holistically” rather than framing the expenditure simply as football-related.

“There's so much to Northgate, and part of it is those lights on Friday in the middle of town,” McWilliams said.

Parent Mark Helbling argued that the loss of Friday night games impacted the entire business community.

Architect and engineer Greer Hayden originally estimated the cost of the field work at $1.5 million, but Northgate facilities manager Scott Smith said that some of the itemized prices seemed high, and there were a number of items that were not critical to the district's main goal of getting the lights back and making the field safe to play.

Smith said that much of the cost was associated with work that needed to be done whether lights were erected or not. It will take about $300,000 just to regrade and sod the field to eliminate drainage problems and dangerous divots in the field surface. Also necessary, he said, were upgrades to the electrical system that serves not only the stadium, but the adjacent elementary school as well. Board member Michael Rajakovic said that almost half the $1.1 million estimated cost would pay for work that needed to be done even if the lights were not replaced. Smith said that the district would end up having to re-do portions of the current needed work if the lights were added at another time.

In response to a question from McWilliams, Smith said that the only major capital project Northgate faces in the near future is replacing asphalt at each of the schools.

Board member Dan O'Keefe cautioned the board that the field expenditure represents 10 to 15 percent of the district's current reserve fund balance. He also said that, unlike past years when financial projections showed a decrease in the fund balance that never materialized, work by the auditors indicated this year's deficit would be real.

Smith recommended that the board trust the experts and the administration to pare down the pro-ject, eliminating all but the work most critical to accomplishing the goal of providing a safe and illuminated football field.

A motion to have the architectural firm HHSDR prepare a design and specifications, and solicit bids, was approved unanimously by the board. Amy Joy Robinson and Gary Paladin were absent, and Christine King participated by telephone.

Board member Shannon Smithey said that the board planned to revisit the security project after the first of the year.