Stadium, auditorium among Cape school projects

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Both were left off the new high school to keep costs down.

Athletics and the performing arts don't always go hand in hand. But if Cape Girardeau Central High School athletic director Mark Ruark has his way, the new high school will get both a football/soccer stadium and a performing arts auditorium.

"I don't see it as either-or. I support it being all or none," he said.

Building a $5 million auditorium and a $1.25 million stadium would almost certainly require voters to approve a bond issue, Ruark said.

He favors a 6,000-seat football stadium and a 1,000-seat performance hall.

The two multimillion-dollar projects were listed in the district's strategic plan adopted by the school board in October 2000. The $23 million high school on South Silver Springs Road opened in 2002 minus an auditorium and a stadium because they were cut from the project to keep costs down.

That has forced the high school to use facilities elsewhere in town for everything from school musicals to football games, an inconvenient situation that also poses scheduling problems, high school staff and booster club members say.

Now those two items are among an estimated $12 million worth of construction projects proposed in a new five-year plan that the school board is scheduled to discuss at a special meeting Tuesday night.

Construction projects are just part of the wide-ranging plan, which also proposes a preschool program and higher teachers' salaries.

The plan doesn't recommend how to fund the proposals. That would be up to the board and the school administration to decide.

But high school boosters say planning needs to start now on a stadium project. The high school plays its varsity football games at Southeast Missouri State University's Houck Stadium. That rental contract is set to expire after the fall 2009 football season.

"We can't wait until fall 2008 because it is going to be too late then," Ruark said of planning for a football stadium.

"If we're not going that route, then we need to negotiate a long-term deal that is financially prudent for taxpayers," he said.

The school district pays the university $2,000 rent for each game it plays at Houck Stadium. This fall the district will pay $10,000 for five home games.

The rent is only one factor cited by supporters of a new stadium for the high school.

For boosters and Ruark, a bigger issue is the fact that the varsity football team often has to play its home games on Thursday nights because of scheduling conflicts with the university. The women's soccer team at Southeast plays its home games on Friday nights, Ruark said.

"When we have to play Thursday night games, it cuts into our crowds," he said.

Donald Beckham, a member of the high school booster club, believes the football program would generate more community support if games were held on Friday nights.

The school district receives no money from concession-stand sales at Houck Stadium. "That is a loss of several thousand dollars per game," Ruark said.

Boosters like Beckham also favor construction of an auditorium. The booster club backs school activities in general, not just athletics, he said.

Having a stadium on the high school campus would be a good marketing tool, proponents say. The new school would be more visible to fans and alumni.

"I think it would be great for school pride," said Ruark.

High school booster Gary Schuessler said playing games at Houck Stadium doesn't boost school spirit. "We don't have a home-field advantage," he said.

Both he and Beckham served on the committee that crafted the latest recommendations for school improvements in the district. Schuessler also served on the district's steering committee that helped develop the new strategic plan.

Construction plans, proposed several years ago, envision a stadium on the northwest corner of the high school campus. The stadium would include permanent bleachers, restrooms, concession stands, an elevated press box and a scoreboard, Ruark said.

He'd like to install an artificial-turf field like that used at Houck Stadium.

The new stadium then could be the venue for all levels of high school football as well as high school soccer games without any wear and tear to the field, he said.

Central High School's freshman and junior varsity football teams currently play their games on the junior high school field across town.

A place to perform

The lack of a high school auditorium has forced the school's drama club to perform its plays and musicals at the Central Junior High School auditorium.

The high school orchestra performs in the school's gymnasium, but the gym's imperfect acoustics make it a poor venue for concerts, said Steve Schaffner, orchestra director and chairman of the high school music department.

The junior high auditorium is heavily used for performances ranging from elementary school Christmas concerts to junior high and high school musicals.

"It has become a scheduling issue to use the junior high school," Schaffner said.

In addition, the junior high school auditorium doesn't have state-of-the art equipment. "We have basically the same light setup as was installed in 1954," Schaffner said.

Some of the larger churches in the Cape Girardeau area have better equipped auditoriums than the junior high school.

Students at those churches are used to performing in state-of-the art auditoriums, Schaffner said. "Then they come to school and we are in the dark ages," he said.

335-6611, extension 123

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