About 60 people attended the tour on Sunday of the current football and track facility, followed by a presentation in the high school auditorium.
Brian Petersen, Roland-Story’s athletic director, led the tour of the athletic facility.
Repeated flooding has caused the track to deteriorate to the point where the Iowa High School Athletic Association will not allow the Norsemen to host district meets. Replacing the track will cost about $500,000, and future flooding is likely to damage that surface, causing it to be replaced more frequently than the 20-year life expectancy a track generally has.
Not replacing the track could lead to Roland-Story losing its track and field program, Petersen said.
Flooding has also damaged the football field to the point where the crown does not drain properly, and the sidelines have uneven areas that are dangerous to players, Petersen said.
Last year, a Norsemen football player tore his ACL when he stepped in a hole while warming up. “He never played football again,” Petersen said.
It was a beautiful day for the tour, and several in attendance commented on what a nice setting the current stadium is.
“We do love our facility here,” Petersen said. “It’s beautiful to be down here. But we have some obstacles here — things that we could fix — but they mount up to a significant cost. And we have some limitations — some things we cannot fix.”
The current football facility was built in the 1940s. There are several reasons the school district would like to relocate the stadium. Among them are safety, flooding, space issue and environmental issues.
Parking and sidewalks are limited, causing fans to walk to and from the stadium on busy streets, often in the dark.
The football field has flooded eight times in the past nine years. That flooding is damaging the track and field surface, causing increased costs for repair, and each flood results in significant personnel time to clean the track and fence areas. Flooding even caused the canceling of a football game in September of 2015.
Space issues include limited restrooms for spectators and athletes. The facilities don’t meet code requirements, which is legal as long as they are an existing structure. If any renovations are made to the building, however, everything must be brought up to code, Superintendent Matt Patton said. That would involve a building with a much bigger footprint, said Eric Vermeer from Haila Architecture. For example, it would require an increase to 18 bathroom stalls just for the women’s restroom.
The visitors’ bleachers, storage building, shotput and discus rings are on city-owned land. The entire facility is landlocked and there are no options to expand.
Stadium seating is limited to room for about 850 on the home bleachers and 250 on the visitors’ bleachers.
“That’s not enough seating for us right now,” Petersen said. Drone photos from a football game this season showed 450 people standing.
Staying at the current site is also difficult because the Iowa Department of Natural Resources will not allow the school district to raise the field and track area because it needs to remain a flood zone.
At the auditorium, Shelly Broich spoke to the audience about the planned renovations to that space, which are expected to cost about $500,000. Broich is in her 21st year at Roland-Story, where she has been an instructor for large group speech and the fall play.
“I know this space well,” she said. She looks forward to improved technology and lighting as well as more of a “Roland-Story look” to the auditorium, replacing the blue seating and main curtain with red.
Safety, obsolete equipment and increased usage are some of the reasons behind the auditorium plans.
The curtains do not currently meet fire code as they are not made from fire-resistant material. Some of the stage lighting is so obsolete bulbs can no longer be replaced. Energy efficiency would be improved with updated lighting and equipment. The wireless microphones will be obsolete in three years due to FCC regulations.
The auditorium is used almost daily during the school year and included more than 50 scheduled performances, presentations and meetings. Between 45 and 50 percent of high school students participate in the fine arts each year. For the 2016-17 school year, that was 163 students.
Mary Ruppel asked Patton several questions regarding the cost of the new stadium. “It’s a lot of money to spend on a facility that only half the students can use,” she said. “I don’t want girls to be able to play football. I’ve worked in healthcare for a long time, and I think football is dangerous. But to spend millions of dollars on something such a small number of students will use is not a good idea.”
Ruppel was also concerned that the meeting facility that is proposed for the northeast corner of the stadium will create competition for local venues.
During the question-and-answer session, Larry Riesetter expressed concern that the school district was looking to take the mall property off the tax rolls.
The school district would be open to a developer who wants to build townhouses on the upper parking lot area.
“If a developer were to build townhomes on the upper parking lot, that would just about replace the property taxes the mall generates,” Patton said.
The mall is assessed at about $500,000, he said, and the average home in Story City is assessed for $207,000.
“Story City is well-known for that mall, and it does not project a positive image of our community,” Patton said.
Dallas Kray pointed out that, since the mall property is zoned highway commercial, if the $5.3 million bond issue fails, a “less desirable business” could buy the mall.
A couple years ago, the community spurned an attempt by Love’s Truck Stop to purchase land on the other side of the interstate, which is zoned industrial. A zoning change would have been required for Love’s to build there, and the city council voted not to make that change.
Ron and Lynn Ehrenberg left the tour in support of the new stadium project and auditorium renovation. “I see the need,” Ron said. “You’ve got the issue with the flooding, so some of it is just comparing the cost of staying and working against the current to a certain degree.”
If the bond issue fails, Lynn is concerned about what will happen to the mall location, what business might end up there, or whether the taxpayers will end up footing the bill to tear down the mall anyway.
“It’s an eyesore. So, wouldn’t we like to know what’s going to go there, or whether anything will go there?” Lynn said.
Carson Parker, a Roland-Story junior, and his parents Roger and Susan are in support of the project, even though Carson won’t be in school when the new football field would open in 2020.
“I think it would be a great thing for the community,” Carson said. He has fond memories of the mall in its early years but “now I just see a big red and blue building. And I think if we had a nice football stadium, it would show we have pride in our athletics, pride in our school, pride in our community.
“I think it would help students have a better experience in athletics, in marching band and in the fine arts while still giving more people a willingness to move to Roland-Story.”
Carson is involved in both athletics and fine arts and uses both facilities frequently.
“It’s almost impossible to find a place on the field that doesn’t have a hole to contend with,” said Carson, who is the long-snapper for the team.
Roger Parker said his family has been supporters of the Roland-Story community for a long time. “It’s an investment in our kids and it’s an investment in our community,” he said of the new stadium plan.
Susan Parker said, “I want our facilities to show and to look as great as what the school system itself is and the community is.”