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Construction will begin immediately, allowing project to be completed before the end of the current school year

PHIL HAWKINS - The field at Woodburn High School's Pat Cary Track & Field Facility will be replaced with artificial turf this spring. As Woodburn High School prepares to host graduation in the spring, this year's 2019 graduates will likely be walking across a new artificial turf field to receive their diplomas.

Woodburn School District's board of directors voted unanimously at the monthly board meeting on Jan. 15 to appropriate funding for an artificial turf field, allowing the athletic department to move forward on the project immediately and replace the current grass field located at the high school's Pat Cary Track & Field Facility.

The project is the continuation of athletic improvements that have been taking place around the high school recently, including the new weight room that was constructed at the northeast side of the field.

"We started this conversation because our school district made the commitment to improving the school through the bond," Director of Human Resources Casey Woolley said at December's board meeting. "We want to make our athletic facilities up to par with the district."

The district's athletic department was able to secure funding by setting aside close to $880,000 over the past several athletic seasons in anticipation of moving forward on the turf field project.

The project is one that the athletic department has long wanted to pursue, but could not due to the long list of facility and maintenance needs around the district. With the passing of $65 million bond in 2015, the district has been able to address many of its more pressing needs, allowing the athletic department to move forward on the turf field project.

"Because of our community passing the bond — without them, this wouldn't be happening," Woolley said. "It put us in a situation where we can now invest in our facilities as well."

But school board members needed to vote to reappropriate the remainder of this year's athletic budget and next year's athletic budget into the current athletic fund in order for the project to begin immediately rather than wait until the end of the 2018-19 school year on June 30 when next year's funds would become available.

The district has contracted out with Hellas Sports Construction — which has installed turf field for the Dallas Cowboys and other NFL teams, as well as locally at Western Oregon University and for the Hillsboro Hops.

Due to the busy summer work season for Hellas, the Woodburn School District needed to move forward on the project immediately in order to get the project done this year.

"That way we can get it concluded in time for graduation," Woolley said. "Which is assured that we can."

Throughout the discussion in December and January, board member Linda Johnston expressed cautious skepticism about the prospect of borrowing money from next year's athletic budget in order to pay for turf field project.

"I know we keep moving bits and pieces of our bond into maintenance," Johnston asked at the January meeting. "How are we going to pay for those projects that keep getting moved into those funds?"

Board members were assured that the funding for the turf field is not coming from the bond. District Superintendent Ransom responded that due to the strong ending fund balance, moving the money into the athletic fund would not be a major drain on maintenance, simply forwarding what would have been established in the 2019-20 athletic fund during the budget process this spring.

What we're doing is we're taking money from those funds — there's more than enough to cover a major emergency — and we don't anticipate needing it for projects," Ransom said. "Once we budget this spring, we'll bring those funds up to their appropriate levels."

The construction of the new field would have immediate impact this spring, forcing the high school and middle school track and field programs to play their entire schedule on the road while the field is being installed. But the result will allow the field to be ready for summer use, and in the fall, the boys and girls varsity soccer programs will join the football program in playing their home games on the new field.

"It is really the standard that all schools go to now," Woolley said at the December meeting. "We were the only team in Mid-Willamette that didn't have a turf field."

The athletic department anticipates future development of the surrounding facilities, partnering with the booster club and local business leaders to help fund further phases of the facilities with an eye toward turning the fields south of the stadium into an athletic destination that could one day host community events.

"The south side is a huge asset to the community," Woolley said. "It could be a location that could host events and could be used as a fundraiser to host the community."

"We're known for the outlet mall and our soccer, and this would be an opportunity to showcase that," he continued. "Set up signature events every year that would be a guaranteed revenue coming in."

But before the school district reached out to the community to solicit funding, the athletic department first wanted to make sure the initial field used by the high school would be funded strictly from the district budget.

"It's always good to have a vision, and I truly see this as a starting point and hopefully we see this as a catalyst to expand that to become even more useful and community centered area," Woolley said.

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