The Mexico School board since March has discussed what it should do with athletic fields at the middle and high schools. The Mexico School District No. 59 Board of Education initially settled on constructing a new soccer field at Mexico Middle School, which could be used for district play but would mean the high schools teams would play at the middle school.

However, support for the high school to have a complete athletic complex grew, and by June the board decided to move forward with planning for a new soccer field at the high school and using artificial turf on that field, the football field and baseball infield. Other school districts with turf fields include Hannibal, Kirksville, Macon, South Callaway, Southern Boone, Blair Oaks, Columbia and California. Moberly is in the process of constructing turf fields.

The district must determine funding sources and what company will perform the work. Superintendent Zach Templeton estimated in June turfing the three fields would cost between $2 million to $2.5 million. The district does not currently have funding sources to completely pay for the new turf since more than $1 million cannot be spent from the district's capital improvement fund at one time. Templeton estimated replacing the football field with turf will cost around $800,000.

Templeton and high school Activities Director Travis Blevins conducted site tours at other school districts and met with vendors to review field surface products. Templeton also has communicated with other superintendents in the state who have taken on similar projects.

A challenge the district could face is having to pay an architect and engineer to design the fields, who then would seek bids for construction or give the district specifications to put in a bid request.

"The cons of that is the time involved in selecting and hiring them to do the work, then they do the plans, and then they're going to charge you, typically it's 6% of the project cost as their fee to do the work," Templeton said.

The district also could use a purchasing cooperative that meets statutory requirements for bidding. "What that does is it allows you to select your vendor and purchase through the cooperative, and they are meeting the requirement of bidding through the cooperative, so you just pick the thing you want, and you work through them to do the project," Templeton said, adding other districts have gone this route.

The downside to using a cooperative is that the district will not be able to compare bids, but the district would avoid architectural and engineering fees, Templeton said. "The process gets underway a lot faster because some of those [bidding] timelines," he said.

If the district went with the cooperative, they would be able to use the baseball and soccer fields for the spring. Costs associated with going through the cooperative when compared to a bidding process would be similar, Templeton said.

"My fear in trying to create my own [request for proposals] to go out and bid this is if you don't put in good specifications then people can put something in there that cuts their price down that's less than we want," he said.

Some price comparisons still can be done through the cooperative. The cooperative sets limits on what vendors can charge, Templeton said.

Financing the fields

The fields could be funded through lease financing, which includes a bank loan that is then paid off over an amount of time, or through a bond process that would require voter approval. Bonds have an advantage in that a designated portion of a levy pays for the debt on the project.

"Either way you're borrowing money. It really just determines where you pay it back out of," Templeton said.

The bond could be written to pay off the lease financing through the bond if the district was to move forward with lease financing and later implement a bonding measure.

"I would like to read the language of the co-op, because there are different ways of doing a co-op. At the end of the day, who do we have to pay?" board member Brian Rowe asked.

The district would pay the vendor directly, Templeton said, adding there seems to be three main vendors for athletic field construction in the state — one which focuses on the Kansas City area, one on St. Louis and the last has a larger coverage area. Vendors in the cooperative pay a fee to be in it.

The district in April will have the capacity to seek $11 million in bonds with no increase to the district's tax levy.

"So, could if it's a no tax increase, we could use that money to pay off the lend-lease thing you're talking about?" board President Dustin Pascoe asked.

Only if it is written into the proposal and voters pass it, could bond funds be used to pay off lease financing, Templeton said.

The board plans to discuss the athletic fields at a work session in October and meet with vendors from the cooperative to review turf products and ask questions.

cdunlap@gatehousemedia.com