Raleigh, N.C. — The issues with the football field at Athens Drive High School in Raleigh are well-documented, but some are balking at the idea that part of a Wake County school construction bond would go to finance an update.
School board members have said they will ask voters to approve about $800 million in bonds to build 16 schools and renovate six across the county. Part of the money raised would go towards improvements at Athens Drive's Williams Stadium.
Wake County Commissioner Paul Coble has heard some of the questions.
"When the school system has told everybody they need a bond because they need more seats, they need more capacity, someone is going to ask, "If you need more capacity, why are you renovating a stadium,'" he said.
For the hundreds of parents, students and fans of Jaguar sports, an upgrade to facilities more than 35 years old is a necessity, even a safety issue.
The emergency access road that leads to the stadium is unpaved, pointed out Athletics Director Alvin Thompson. "It's not even big enough for two cars. Imagine a big ambulance trying to get through," he said.
Others point to dangerously dim lights, gravel parking lots and a sunken stadium that is not accessible.
"There’s really nowhere to go if there’s a thunderstorm or major crisis in the middle of the game," Thompson said.
Moreover, he said, learning takes place on the field. "It’s just an extension of the classroom," said Eric Pulling, who coaches football and teaches physical education at Athens Drive. "Lessons are taught out here – to the football players, the soccer players and to everyone who uses it."
"I’m a teacher first," Thompson added. "A lot of our kids who participate, graduate. They don’t drop out."
The upgrade to the stadium is estimated to cost almost $5 million. Coble says that money could pay for an additional 200 classroom seats.
"It’s all about setting priorities, and you have to be prepared to justify your decisions," he said. "Which is more important, a new stadium or new seats? They’ve been telling us its new seats.
"We’re going to be very judicious in how we spend that money and look at everything carefully," Coble concluded.