Peru schools eyes athletic facility improvements

Sep. 30—PERU — Academic buildings have been the focus of previous bond projects at Peru Community Schools.

The most recent one saw seventh and eighth graders moved to the high school, a new secure entrance at the high school and classroom renovations to prepare for the influx of students.

Now the attention is turning to Peru's athletic facilities.

Peru schools intends to spend $4.3 million to upgrade some of its athletic facilities at the high school, including the football stadium and baseball field.

The exact scope of the project is to be determined. School administrators and the school board are still determining priorities, but the football stadium is expected to make the list, barring unexpectedly high construction prices.

"It's gotta be largely athletics this time," said Superintendent Sam Watkins.

Track, LED lights and playing surfaces

The track might very well be priority number one.

The eight-lane track's condition has deteriorated to the point that patches of the rubber surface have eroded away. The rubber pieces flake off if one rubs their shoe on the track.

"From an athletics standpoint, we absolutely need a new track," said athletic director Colin Quin.

The outer-most lane of the track butts up against the foundation of the home-side bleachers. The state minimum spacing is three feet, according to Watkins.

"It's a big problem, and people don't want to run here because they say it's not safe," he said. "We have to have a new track. We can't run home meets for the third year in a row."

One solution would be shifting the track a few feet away from the bleachers. It would involve tearing up part of the football field, however Watkins said the field itself is in need of an overhaul, including a new playing surface.

Home-side bleachers at Bengal Memorial Stadium are past their lifespan. Quin said there is black mold underneath them. The stands are also not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990; however, Watkins said the grandstands — built prior to 1990 — are grandfathered in.

Water issues underneath the bleachers prevent Peru schools from using it as a storage space.

Peru administration will also consider renovations to the baseball stadium. Watkins said a new playing surface, plus new drainage and irrigation are needed. LED lighting is considered for both stadiums.

"We've got some issues compared to others places about our lights," he said.

The light poles at the baseball field are visibly rusted. LED lights are more efficient than older lights.

Quin said the bleachers in Tiger Den and Tiger Arena could use upgrades.

Tiger Den is Peru's auxiliary gym and hosts a number of athletic events, including nearly all junior high winter sports. Those bleachers are broken and previous water damage has warped the floor.

Tiger Arena hosts high school sports including boys and girls basketball.

Financing

Watkins said Peru schools will likely bid out the projects, then determine which ones are included in the $4.3 million bond based on pricing. It is unlikely all needs and wants will be covered in the project.

Some debt is about to roll off Peru's books, allowing the school corporation to take on more without raising taxes. This is called debt replacement.

"We want to keep the tax rate stable for the Peru constituency," Watkins said.

Peru schools will have the opportunity to cover the wants and needs that aren't included in the $4.3 million bond in a couple years.

Watkins said Peru schools will be able to take out up to $5 million in two years and up to $18 million in three years, after more debt is paid off.

"If we don't get all of these here, Peru is in great shape in the next four years with bonding that would not raise tax payer rates to get upwards of $32 million," he said.

Future projects will be left up to a new superintendent — Watkins is retiring at the end of the school year — and the school board. Given how fiscally conservative the Peru school board is, it is unlikely it will be willing to take on the entire $18 million when that opportunity arrives.

Not just sports

Elmwood and Blair Pointe elementary schools also have some needs that administrators are hoping get included in this bond or a future one.

The biggest priority at Elmwood is the roof, according to principal Kristi Eddy.

"When it comes to prioritizing the physical building, it's obvious to those of us who are there every single day that our roof is one of the older roofs in the corporation," she said at a board meeting earlier this month. "The roof is a mess."

Eddy said there isn't enough parking on site for teachers and some park in the grass.

The principal also said the school is at capacity and could use a couple more preschool classrooms, noting the demand and need in the community.

At Blair Pointe, the HVAC system needs to be replaced, according to Watkins. The teachers' parking lot needs resurfaced, too.

Spencer Durham can be reached at 765-454-8598, by email at spencer.durham@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at @Durham_KT.