Sports leaders weigh in on LCHS field contract

Leaders of La Cañada sports groups asked La Cañada Unified School District officials not to forget about them. They made their plea as the district investigates the possibility of nullifying an existing contract, and entering into a new one, for the use and upkeep of La Cañada High School’s football field.

The requests came during the city and school board’s joint-use committee meeting Thursday morning.

Concerns about the limited availability of the field under the district’s current agreement with the Arroyo United Foundation and Spartan Boosters Club were raised by members of the La Cañada Gladiators youth football program and a La Cañada High coach.

The district is looking into terminating its contract with Arroyo Foundation and the Spartan Boosters, which lasts through 2018, and entering into a similar contract with a new organization for joint use of the field. A meeting between the three parties is coming up in the next couple of weeks, Supt. Jim Stratton said.

“Right now we’re trying to clarify the ongoing commitment to that contract,” Stratton said.

La Cañada High’s field will need to be replaced within the next four years. The estimated cost for replacing the field’s artificial turf is $382,000, said Mike Leininger, the district's assistant superintendent of facilities and operations.

The problem is that the Arroyo Foundation and Boosters Club have had difficulty meeting their respective annual payments of $8,000 and $5,000, which are designated to be used for maintaining and replacing the seven-year-old field. This has the district researching alternative arrangements.

Cindy Wilcox, a school-board member, said she’s wary of entering into a similar agreement with a new organization, which Leininger describes as his ideal situation. The problem with the current arrangement, Wilcox says, is that the field becomes overused. The Arroyo United Foundation has control of the field on weekends and on weekday evenings from 5:30 p.m. on, she said.

“I’m really reluctant to sign another contract when we need to rehabilitate that field. If the [next group] takes as many hours, I don’t want to sign that contract,” she said.

Alison Dodson, coach of the La Cañada High girls’ lacrosse team, raised concerns about the limited use of the field.

“It’s quite hard for us to get access to the field because of the soccer clubs there,” Dodson said, adding that the soccer clubs often arrive at the field early, prior to 5:30 p.m., start practicing on an unutilized section of it and begin slowly creeping across the field into Dodson’s practice.

“It’s very had to deal with it,” she said.

There is interest in a boys’ lacrosse program from La Cañada High’s students, but the lack of field space is hampering the school from moving forward, Dodson said.

“It’s hard for us to get field space in La Cañada. When we can get our own field space, we are sure a boys’ team will follow,” she said.

Kevin Lacey, the president of the La Cañada Gladiators junior football program, echoed Dodson’s concerns.

“The problem is that these soccer groups essentially monopolize the field,” Lacey said.

The Arroyo Foundation requests that the Gladiators, and other user groups, submit dates for which they’ll need the field early in the spring so the Foundation can finalize its own schedule. The Gladiators’ conference doesn’t release its schedule until August, though. The Gladiators have been able to negotiate around scheduling conflicts because of a good relationship between presidents of the two organizations, Lacey said.

“We do not have a viable alternate venue,” he said. “If we don’t have access to that field, we can’t play.”

Lacey’s desire is for the Gladiators, and other groups with a vested interest in the field, be included in future contract discussions.

“I think that we, and the other user groups, need to be considered going forward in this, or we’re going to be in the same mess we’re in now,” he said.

Providing for LCHS’ athletic teams has been the district’s No. 1 priority and will remain that way as the district researches an alternative agreement for use of the field, said Susan Boyd, president of the LCUSD Governing Board.

“Our biggest concern is that all of our sports programs have a facility that accommodates their needs — that’s our number-one concern,” Boyd said. “We need to make sure whatever we do coming up in the future gives us the resources to do that.

“If we were to end up with a different contract, we’d want to make sure that [the Gladiators] are included somewhere in there,” Boyd said. “Obviously, if it works for our current contract holder, it should work for the new one, too.”

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