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September 16, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, September 16, 2005

Hopes flickering for Gunn stadium lights Hopes flickering for Gunn stadium lights (September 16, 2005)

Lack of funds could delay plans

by Alexandria Rocha

Although boosters wanted to install stadium-quality lights at Gunn High School in time for this fall's football season, it could be another three years before the project is completed.

Gunn's boosters simply have not met the same fundraising success Palo Alto High School did when a major donor came forward last year and lights were installed within months. In fact, Gunn parents are still $180,000 short of funding the plan, and that's after the school board voted this week to pay for nearly half of the $482,000 project.

It has prompted board president John Barton to call for a district policy outlining how future donations for specific projects are used. A few years ago, the district adopted a similar policy regulating how PTA donations are applied because of claims that certain sites held fundraising advantages, either because of more alumni in the area or a broader volunteer base.

"It's one thing to give the district money, but then when you give money and say I want you to do this with it, that's a different matter," board member Cathy Kroymann said, adding she is in favor of a second practice for specific donations. "We need to be very clear with our donors what costs they need to be responsible for and what we'll be responsible for."

About $150,000 of the district's total $238,000 toward Gunn's lights is for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) upgrades that need to be done to the field regardless of the lights project.

Another $65,000 is because the district gave Paly that much for its current pool project, and the remaining $23,000 is for inspection costs, consultant and advertising fees that the board couldn't decide who was responsible for and just decided to pick up.

When Gunn's boosters launched the lights plan and won board approval in June, no one had any idea the Gunn project would be so much more expensive than Paly's.

However, when Gunn's Hal Daner Track and Sports Field was inspected, they quickly learned about the ADA upgrades and the greater electrical wiring challenges that exist at the site.

Lights and their installation have also simply become more expensive in the last year.

Board member Gail Price expressed her frustration at a meeting earlier this week over the delay in the plans.

"I want to see this project expedited quickly. There are disappointed kids and community members. I'm not pointing any fingers ... ," Price said. "I want to ensure our facilities and capital improvements are done as quickly as possible and that facilities are comparable at both sites."

A year ago neither high school had any plans to install stadium lights on the football fields. In fact, both schools' sports boosters had other priorities for upgrading athletic facilities and lights were not at the top of either list.

That changed when a few major donors -- one being the Paly quarterback's mom -- stepped forward with more than $215,000 to fund four 80-foot lighting structures for the Embarcadero Road campus only.

When Gunn parent Cindy Ziebelman watched her teenage son play football under the new lights at Paly's Hod Ray Field she was inspired -- along with a few other booster parents -- to take on a project of their own.

So far they have 44 donations totaling $63,000.

"The harsh reality is that fundraising is harder at Gunn than Paly," said Bob Cranmer Brown, president of Gunn's boosters. "We really hope we'll be able to have the lights this season, but it just might not happen."

Although many other districts in the area require their high schools to share football fields with lights or use nearby college campus fields, Gunn parents scoff at the notion that their project is a case of keeping up with the Joneses.

They say it's more a matter of maintaining parity at the district's two high schools, boosting school spirit and maybe raising the school's athletic department some cash. Thousands more students, parents and community members attended Paly's games last season under the lights than in years before, raising $17,000 in ticket sales.

The fact that Gunn's plans have been approved and the contractor has been selected, but the boosters have yet to raise $180,000, has prompted board member Camille Townsend to say it's a case of the "carriage before the horse."

The current contractor's bid for the lights expires Oct. 27 and if the boosters fail to raise the funds before then, the project will have to go out to bid at a later date.

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