The long drive to renovate Athens Drive High School's aging stadium made a crucial gain Tuesday courtesy of the Wake County school board.
The stadium, the only Wake high-school stadium to sit on land owned by the city of Raleigh, has long been the subject of complaints that it's substantially inferior to facilities at newer schools. As the board worked on a larger school construction measure, member Jim Martin suggested an amendment favoring an early start to improvements estimated at more than $7.4 million.
"The amendment is that that $500,000 residual be considered for the design of the Athens Drive stadium project," Martin said, referring to remaining projects to be funded by Wake County's last bond issue.
The amendment passed 5-4 along party lines, with the Democratic majority holding sway. The entire spending package, including the Athens Drive money, was approved 8-1 with only Republican board member Debra Goldman dissenting.
Now comes a series of ifs: if there's money left over from other projects, if the school board and county commissioners agree to hold a bond referendum next year, if the improvements to Athens Drive become part of the bond issue, and, yes, if voters pass the referendum.
The board vote gives momentum to the upgrade by letting design work begin before a bond issue goes before voters. Goldman, who's running for the Republican nomination for state auditor, objected to Martin's amendment as coming too late in the process and lacking sufficient comparison to other needs.
"When some things are taken out of here that the board previously approved," Goldman said, "the timing is not appropriate."
The school board's action followed the Jan. 17 decision by the Raleigh City Council to allow the county school system to work on the stadium and grounds under the master plan for nearby Lake Johnson.
Williams Stadium has been the school's headquarters for football, soccer and lacrosse since Athens Drive opened in 1978. Administrators, students and parents want a field house, better lighting, a paved parking lot and other improvements that would make the site accessible to people with disabilities.
"We've been waiting," Athens Drive parent Alan Keith told board members. "We certainly ask that our facility be considered prior to any new athletic facilities."
Other parents distributed thick packets to board members, with large color photographs illustrating the differences between Athens Drive's antiquated facilities and the much larger and better-equipped stadiums at schools such as Panther Creek High.
Goldman made clear she wanted improved facilities for Athens Drive but asked for a better-planned process. The vote on construction spending took place as the board was about to exceed its self-imposed 11 p.m. curfew to end meetings.
"That's really, literally, an eleventh-hour change," she said.