The move, which wasn’t on the agenda, comes in response to a federal investigation into a complaint that the facilities for female athletes were inferior to those of male athletes at RSHS.
Despite the length of the investigation, it was only made public two weeks ago.
Along with the expenditure, the school board unanimously approved a joint resolution-agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, agreeing in principle to provide the softball team a field comparable to the baseball team’s and the girls basketball team a locker room comparable to the boys.
Plans to bring the facilities into compliance were presented to the board by RSHS Principal Cory Satterfield and Athletic Director Hal Shuler.
Satterfield explained a plan to move the softball field about 25 feet to allow for bleachers to be built behind the backstop.
“In doing so, you are going to have to tear down what is there,” Satterfield said. “Then, we would add a fence and dugouts comparable to those the boys have.”
He said the plan calls for three rows of bleachers on a cement pad. It also calls for a concrete pad in the batting cage, which Norris said would cost around $4,000.
“A softball field and a baseball field are the same, but they’re different in their dimensions,” Satterfield said, explaining that while the baseball field extends about 400 feet, the softball field would extend about 200 feet.
The $105,400 approved by the school board will fund the first phase of renovations. They include 5-row, 33-foot bleachers and a concrete pad for them to sit on; a new sideline fence, backstop and movable outfield fence; regrading of the infield and warning track areas of the field; two new brick dugouts with a metal roof; a new electric power source and revisions to the existing irrigation system.
Phase II, which would include lights for the field, is as of yet unfunded. The lights are estimated to cost $75,000.
Shuler then stepped to the podium to discuss a plan to add an additional locker room for the girls basketball team in the school’s gym, using an existing facility that isn’t being used.
He first described the current arrangements.
“On game days, when we have a basketball game, the men’s side is used as a dressing room for the men’s and the women’s teams, and the visitors use the girls’ side ...” Shuler said.
He said the room that will be turned into a locker room has been used by female students in the past, but is currently empty.
“So really, we’re not talking about a whole lot of money at all to fix this situation,” Shuler said. “We’re talking about a couple of lockers and putting some tile down on the floor like what the boys have. The one thing we want to do with basketball and softball is to make it first class, so that we can look back 10 or 15 years from now and say, ‘We did it first class.’”
Norris told board members he’d discussed the plans for the softball field with the federal officials, but hadn’t discussed the locker room plans.
“It is our belief that the substantive provisions (in the agreement) would be met if we did all of this,” Norris said. “We think this has addressed every one of these things.”
Norris suggested the $105,400 for the first phase of softball field renovations should come from the school system’s capital outlay fund balance, and asked for board approval to begin them immediately, “so that we’ll be able to begin playing there in the spring of 2011.”
Outgoing Board of Education Vice Chairman Tom McInnis offered a message to the television cameras following the unanimous vote.
“I think it’s important that the public understand that this is something that did not take place on our watch,” McInnis said. “These situations have been like this since Richmond Senior High was built in 1972.”
“Title IX was passed in 1972, and there was a grace period to allow us to have time to implement this,” Norris elaborated on McInnis’s point. “There was no real plan to have a competitive female athletic program like this. Prior to this, there were no state championships in any women’s sports, and your fields weren’t designed to be competitive. It was sort of ‘Where do you put a softball field?’”
He also said he’d spoken with Satterfield the year before about the fact other teams in the conference had all added lights on their softball fields.
“But I haven’t had the first parent come to me to discuss this,” Norris said. Assistant Superintendent Dr. Robert Beck agreed.
Norris then suggested the board take a comprehensive look at the athletic facilities at the high school, which were built nearly 30 years ago.
“I think one of the problems we’ve had is sometimes we go after these things piecemeal,” Norris said. “I’m going to recommend that you, as a board, look at the high school’s athletic facilities as a whole.”
He suggested putting the capital building plan “back on the table” to determine if any additional upgrades need to be made.
Staff Writer Philip D. Brown can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 32, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.