School district weary of stadium debate

The Enumclaw School Board has asked Superintendent Mike Nelson to continue negotiating a lease agreement with the city of Enumclaw that would give the Enumclaw School District control over the refurbished stadium at Pete’s Pool, but its patience appears to be wearing thin.

“I’m losing my patience with it myself,” board member Corey Cassell said of the negotiations which began in May. The board discussed the agreement during its Sept. 6 study session. “I believe we have negotiated in good faith and on numerous occasions a tentative agreement has been made. In the end, the intent was for this to be a school district facility for kids athletics. This has morphed into something else by the city. It’s really frustrating.”

The latest offering is a 25-year lease agreement for the school district with the district taking responsibility for future turf replacement.

“We’re willing to take it all on, the risks and potential benefits,” district business manager Tim Madden said in a phone conversation after the board’s meeting.

The board let Nelson know it respects the city’s process, but would like to see an agreement in place and soon. Board members noted the city’s attorney is on vacation and the City Council is not scheduled to meet again until Sept. 26.

Board members said the season-opening football game was a beautiful kickoff for the field and the city, and publicly lauded city Public Works Director Chris Searcy for making it all come together at the last minute.

In addition to the urgency it wished to convey in signing a lease agreement, board members expressed a number of other concerns, especially with the city’s plans to charge the district user-fees while it continues to negotiate the lease.

The city has a user-fee system set up for the stadium through the Expo Center. That fee, if pro-rated to an hourly rate for a nonprofit, would be approximately $50 to $70 an hour, plus $19 an hour for lights.

The Park Board recommended no charge for the field while a lease was negotiated.

Madden said the district is planning for the worst-case scenario.

“We’re flying blind,” Board President Chris VanHoof said. “The fee structure could change at anytime.”

Cassell also was worried about the stability of the fee structure and was not adverse to playing elsewhere if necessary, but called that option extremely unfortunate.

In response to the board’s question, Nelson said if the field had remained in its original grass state, the district would have continued to maintain the field in exchange for use at no charge.

In the proposed agreement, the city would be able to use the field free of charge for Creation Fest and any event booked within 30 days, if there were no conflicts. The city would pay a fee for all other scheduled use.

VanHoof sees the stadium agreement as the same longterm lease the district has with the city for the Boise Creek Six-Plex only reverse. That agreement, he said, has worked for years.

VanHoof is also concerned about the cost negotiations with the city are having on taxpayers.

“It’s costly on our end,” VanHoof said. “Unlike the city, we don’t have in-house counsel, so it does cost us to negotiate.”

The board said they feel no sense of urgency from the city to tidy up negotiations.

Board member Nancy Merrill was concerned about the breakdown in the relationship between the city and school district, a key relationship in the community.

Nelson said, regardless, the district is moving ahead with plans to put a fee schedule in place that would mirror the one used by the Sumner School District for Sunset Chev Stadium.

The board noted it would like an agreement in place by mid-October at the latest.

“As long as we are moving forward,” Cassell said.