Sacramento parents decry field conditions

Days after heavy rains, the standing water on the fields at McClatchy High School remains downright splashable.

There are potholes. Uneven terrain. And a student athlete narrowly escaped injury after a sinkhole last month swallowed her foot, according to one booster club leader.

“It’s a jewel of an asset within the community, and it’s in deplorable condition,” said Brian Nelson, Restore the Roar treasurer.

Despite voter approval of more than $400 million in bonds less than four years ago, McClatchy booster club leaders are worried that no help is in sight for the school founded in 1937. They have sought support from community leaders and neighborhood associations, and have appeared repeatedly before the district board.

Trouble is, McClatchy is not the only district school facing deteriorating conditions, according to a recent district overview. And Sacramento City Unified School District officials say all bond funds from a 2012 ballot measure are already committed.

Measure R authorized $68 million for long list of “health and safety” improvements for playgrounds, athletic fields, physical education buildings, irrigation systems, asbestos and lead removal, and upgraded kitchen facilities. The items appeared in that order on the 2012 ballot, with no particular emphasis given to any one of them.

So far, the district has committed about $28 million for projects at 19 schools, including a $6.2 million stadium at Kennedy High School; $3 million gym renovation and HVAC system at Hiram Johnson High School; and $2.2 million at McClatchy for a gymnasium renovation, HVAC system, bleachers and remodeled locker rooms, among other projects.

That leaves about $40 million in Measure R funds. But the district intends to use that money for a central district kitchen that can prepare food for all campuses.

Nelson this week questioned whether it was clear from the bond language that the central kitchen would command the bulk of its funds.

“I know they want to spend that money for this purpose,” he said. “There are a lot of needs. We get all that. It’s not my role to direct where the funds come from or go. Our point is the athletics facilities are not safe for the kids to be playing on.”

A separate 2012 bond, Measure Q, authorized $346 million for academic facilities and technology. But that money cannot be used on athletic fields.

Discussion about the central kitchen capped a January board meeting about the status of bond projects. Cathy Allen, the district’s chief operating officer, said the cost of the kitchen could be reduced significantly if the district uses property it already owns instead buying land. And, she said, board members could push the project off if it “doesn’t look like it’s going to happen in three to four years.”

That drew a protest from trustee Jessie Ryan, who represents a large swath of south Sacramento.

“I’m certainly hearing from people … who voted for the measure because of the promise of a central kitchen and what that would mean for low-income students,” said Ryan.

“Just because we have $40 million on the table and have not moved on the central kitchen to date does not mean that I in any way support abandoning that dream,” she said. “Frankly, I think it would be unconscionable given the involvement of so many stakeholders in trying to see that reach fruition.”

Sacramento County Supervisor Patrick Kennedy, a school board member in 2012, co-chaired the bond working group and the independent campaign effort for Measures Q and R.

He said the impetus for the kitchen came from school community members who met with the district’s healthy foods task force and embraced the idea that nutrition is “incredibly important for student outcome and we can provide healthier locally sourced food with a central kitchen.”

“I spoke to dozens of PTAs and at back-to-school nights and events at the district. People mostly wanted to talk about the kitchen. It struck a chord with people,” Kennedy said. The idea was backed, too, by then-Superintendent Jonathan Raymond.

But, Kennedy added, “I don’t know how much of a priority it is. There’s still no kitchen.”

Trustee Jay Hansen, who chairs the trustees’ facilities committee, said he received the review of deteriorating fields in the district last week. It ranked McClatchy fifth behind the needs at Sam Brannan Middle School, John Still K-8, Hiram Johnson and Kennedy.

The review shows major gopher infestations at all four schools at the top of the list. Though Kennedy has a new stadium, it still suffers from gopher problems in turf used for soccer and softball, Allen said.

McClatchy needs field dressing on all athletic fields. The track needs grading and decomposed granite to solve the flooding issue, the review said.

“Obviously we’d love to be able to do everything,” Allen said. “We can’t.”

She said the district for years has had to limit work orders to issues that pose a fire hazard or threaten life or safety.

And maintenance funds that might resolve some sports field problems have been scarce since the recession. Those could be restored through state funding in about 2021. In the meantime on issues of field maintenance, she said, “You’re always in competition with the classroom.”

Hansen, who represents the Land Park neighborhood that is home to McClatchy, said he wants to work with the booster club. He said he has been exploring innovative solutions with state officials. One proposal: Install artificial turf at McClatchy and finance it with a loan from state water funds leveraged by money saved on irrigation costs.

“We need to make the case with the other board members that this is a priority for the community,” Hansen said. “Everybody is fighting and working for their own schools. But it’s important for us to look at McClatchy. They’ve got the largest student body in the entire district.”

Loretta Kalb: 916-321-1073, Sacramento Bee