School's stadium records have a gap

Staff WriterFebruary 28, 2006 

As the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics debates whether to let the University of North Carolina system oversee the boarding school, campus neighbors worry that administrators might rush to build a planned soccer stadium while the state lacks tight control of school purse strings.

Ned Kennington, a resident of Watts-Hillandale neighborhood in West Durham, has tried for months to get information from the school about its plans.

He has been reviewing meeting minutes from the school's board meetings of the late 1990s, when the stadium and track were first put on the drawing board.

But he encountered a hurdle last week.

School administrators have been unable to find official minutes from five meetings of the board's executive committee -- from Feb. 7, 1997; Aug. 21, 1997; Nov. 6, 1997; February 1998; and May 1, 1998.

"They're not available in the official version," said Gerald Boarman, the president of the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics. "But they are available in the draft version. I have no idea what happened to the official version. It was way before my time. I cannot surmise what happened, but nobody's withholding records."

Kennington is seeking the meeting records, he says, with hopes of finding out more about previous talks about the soccer stadium and track planned for the corner of Sprunt Avenue and Broad Street.

For nearly a decade now, residents in Watts-Hillandale have tried to persuade the school to forgo stadium lights and a sound system for play-by-play announcements that could affect quality of life in the neighborhood.

"I want to make it clear, we do not object to a stadium there," Kennington said.

Boarman is adamant about installing lights. But he says he is willing to work with the neighborhood to select the least intrusive beams available.

"The goal is for the 650 kids at our school to have access to appropriate play facilities and being able to utilize them," Boarman said. "Our kids do not get out of school until 4:20 [p.m.], and not putting lights in would not be responsible on our part."

At the urging of UNC president Erskine Bowles, the School of Science and Mathematics will have to decide whether to become a part of the UNC system. Under the current setup, the School of Science and Mathematics has unusual autonomy. The boarding school trustees can allocate money for salaries and other projects without the approval of the UNC Board of Governors, which oversees 16 campuses in the system.

With that deadline approaching and more spending scrutiny soon possible, Watts-Hillandale neighbors worry that the School of Science and Mathematics might begin grading on the new soccer field and track to put the project on the fast-track.

Steve Cohn, a Watts-Hillandale resident for the past 25 years, said neighborhood representatives have been discussing new zoning regulations with city and county planners that could provide more protections to the neighborhood.

Craig Rowe, communications director for the School of Science and Mathematics, said late last week that he had obtained partial minutes of the meetings that Kennington had asked for with the aid of a faculty member.

The faculty member had records in his files, Rowe said.

Boarman said that the school has not put the $1.4 million stadium project out to bid and that there are not plans to begin construction soon.

Staff writer Anne Blythe can be reached at 932-8741 or ablythe@newsobserver.com.

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