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School begins to explore ways to pay for field maintenance

by CHRIS PETERSON
Editor | February 3, 2021 7:00 AM

When the voters passed a $37 million school bond in 2019, included in the measure were plans for new athletic fields between Ruder Elementary and the junior high.

The fields were completed last fall.

Now School District 6 officials are trying to figure out the best longterm way to maintain and water them.

To that end, the school board had a work session on the subject last week, hashing out some proposals with local youth sports leaders and activities director Troy Bowman.

Other schools, like Whitefish and Kalispell typically charge a fee per youth athlete. In Whitefish, there’s a fee for Smith Fields. In Kalispell, a fee for the Kidsport complex.

The fees run about $25 to $35 per kid.

Neither one of those are owned by their respective districts, however. If Columbia Falls charged that much, based on he number of kids that play youth soccer and football, it would raise about $23,000.

Board members agreed they didn’t need to raise that much money. The fees, added to the cost of the programs themselves, could easily price some families out of playing entirely.

It would be just too expensive. Some fees for travel soccer in Whitefish run upwards of $450, noted O’Brien Byrd.

Byrd said they started their own youth and travel leagues here, with volunteer coaches, that cost far less, even for travel leagues.

“Twenty-three thousand is well more than what we’ll need,” to maintain the fields, board member Michael Nicosia noted.

The board agreed a low fee or possibly no fee at all might be the best route.

One way to pay for the fields is through business sponsorships or naming rights. The high school gym, for example, has corporate sponsors with logos on the floor.

They paid $10,000 apiece for those rights, which last until the floor is replaced or refinished, Bowman noted.

There was also a discussion about who would have dibs on the fields.

The top priority would be practice fields for high school sports.

Soccer needs a practice field so they don’t have to practice on the playing field. And in the spring, track would likely use them as well.

Then there’s youth sports. As it was initially proposed, soccer would be a priority as “tier two” but board members had a problem with that, noting that there’s also about 175 kids playing youth football as well and they need practice space. There’s also other sports, like lacrosse, that are growing in popularity.

In the end, the board made no decisions. Instead it will take its time and get firmer numbers on the cost of watering, lawn mowing and administration.