Athens Drive seeks renovation plan to fix poor facilities

School seeks renovation plan

mblake@newsobserver.comNovember 17, 2011 

There is no field house at Athens Drive High School. The parking lot is gravel, the football field is dimly lit.

The press box is so cramped that only three people can sit inside. Without a field house, it can be hard for football players to find a bathroom so they sometimes use the woods instead. The school's boosters have been trying to improve the facilities for decades, but have been frustrated time and again by red tape.

But led by Jaguars booster club president Karin Evanoff, Athens is hoping that today, the school can get one step closer getting approval for a $7.4 million plan to renovate Williams Stadium.

It's more difficult for Athens Drive to get things like this done than other Wake County high schools. Williams Stadium sits on land that borders Lake Johnson, is owned by the city of Raleigh and leased to the Wake County Public Schools System.

That, boosters say, has caused a hang-up when trying obtain bond money from the school system. Before Athens can be included on a school construction bond, it must be approved by Raleigh Parks & Recreation board, then the Raleigh city council.

It can be hard to get things done. For example, former Athens Drive football player Donald Evans, then an NFL player, donated $50,000 to build a field house in 1993. The money has yet to be spent. Alan Keith, an Athens Drive parent involved in the Jag club, said the stadium's roof over the concession stand was leaking earlier this year. But because the building was a non-conforming structure, Keith said it took months to get a permit from the city to do re-roofing.

"It would be nice if everybody would try to come together and help kids out," he said.

Evanoff said there are records of parents donating money for stadium improvements only to ask for it back when nothing could be done before their kids graduated.

"People at Athens are to the point now where they are resigned to the fact that nothing will ever be done," Evanoff said. "And they'll say to me 'Why are you even bothering, Karin? There is $50,000 sitting in the bank that we can't even use.'"

Among the upgrades needed at Athens Drive:

Handicap entrances and bathrooms that meet American Disability Act requirements.

Stadium lights that meet N.C. High School Athletic Association standards. Failure to improve them could jeopardize the school's ability to host playoff games.

A new press box. Currently, assistant coaches from either side stand on wooden decks that bookend the stand.

A field house.

A paved parking lot.

Getting organized

The Jag club's latest attempt to seek the facility's first renovation since its opening in 1978 resulted in an important discovery.

Parents learned that Raleigh has not been able to approve renovations partly because the action was tied with the Lake Johnson master plan calling for a new multi-purpose and environmental building.

The location of the building has been under dispute since 2007, stalling Athens' plans. In October, the Athens Drive stadium renovations were finally separated from the master plan.

This year, the Jag booster club paid more than $19,000 for facilities analysis conducted by two school parents, who are also architects.

"It's never been organized enough and presented properly enough," Evanoff said. "Athens Drive families have gone back to the drawing board and we said to ourselves 'in order to do this and really be heard this time, let's do this and do this professionally.'"

The recommendations - totaling more than $7.4 million in cost - were brought to Lynn Sullivan, project manager for Raleigh parks and recreation. "We really came to recognize that the Jag club's original design was really the most effective," Sullivan said. "Kudos to them for having gotten something moving. The city needed to do its own process without bias. But ultimately, the city's process has supported much of their suggestions. They're very much in tandem."

Plans ahead

The first step in the approval process takes place at 6 p.m. today in the Jaycee Park module at 2405 Wade Ave., when a public leadership group will present its assessment of the renovation plans to the Raleigh parks and recreation board.

There is the potential for a vote, but it may not come to that. Sullivan said that the board will decide within the next month on whether to recommend the renovation to the city council.

Keith said he will enter the meeting with a petition of more than 1,200 signatures.

But after almost 30 years without real progress, Evanoff can't help but worry.

"Our big worry is that they'll play politics and table it or put it on the back burner again and then we're back in no-mans land," Evanoff said. "Then it could be God-knows how many years before this is taken up again. This has been attempted so many times - this is 30 years that we've been waiting."

Blake: 919-460-2606

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