The backdrop was fitting.
Sitting behind tables on the stage at the Dorothy Mulvihill Theater at Manteca High School Monday night the Manteca Unified School District Board of Education listened to community input about whether they wanted to see a new artificial playing surface and all-weather track installed at Manteca and East Union high schools.
And it wasn’t until Manteca High drama teacher Dawn Pointe noted that they were actually sitting below curtain fixtures that likely wouldn’t pass a code inspection – that are anchored by a series of wooden 2-by-4s and suspended chains – that the severity of the safety concerns at Manteca Unified’s oldest campus came into focus.
Rather than seeing that money – roughly $4.3 million – go to improving the athletic facilities, most of the Manteca High faculty, coaches, and alumni said they’d rather see that money go towards improving the facilities to improve the daily education of all students and not just the student-athletes that would benefit from stadium upgrades.
In what was the most telling comment of the night, Manteca High head football coach Eric Reis said that he actually believes that if the issues aren’t addressed – ranging from faulty plumbing to cockroaches infesting the PE offices – then he’s afraid that parents will actively keep their children away from the campus that prides itself on its history and its tradition.
“This school needs some help,” Reis said. “If things don’t change, why would they come here? I think that’s the message that will come across – don’t send your kids there.”
Rather than highlighting the ways that the school – which has perched itself as one of the most formidable medium-sized football schools in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section for more than a decade – could benefit from a state-of-the-art complex like the one being lobbied for at Weston Ranch, faculty and coaches outlined the litany of issues that they face on a daily basis at the 96-year-old campus that had its current stadium, Guss Schmiedt Field, erected in 1959.
Freshman football coach Brian Rohles said that he’s concerned about the influx of vagrants from Garfield Avenue and points along Moffat Boulevard that walk right through the middle of students during the day when the students are passing back-and-forth between classes on both sides of the street. Manteca High is the only campus in Manteca Unified that is split by a public roadway.
But East Union supporters took a much different tone.
According to East Union head football coach Willie Herrera, the school actually pitched the idea more than five years ago – holding up the renderings to prove it as he talked about the injuries that some of his players have sustained by playing of a surface that many feel is subpar. Dino Cunial Field was opened in the late 1990s, and at the time, was one of the two high schools in town that Sierra High School used as a home site before their stadium was built.
Depending on the configuration, the stadium at East Union would cost between $4.3 million and $4.8 million, with money coming from a Mello-Roos fund that has more than $1 million dedicated towards school improvements. The rest of that money would need to be appropriated by the board before construction could begin.
Because of an agreement by the State of California to match some of the $159 million in Measure G bond money that was approved by voters for school modernization, Manteca’s High Schools won’t be eligible to begin the construction renovations that they need for another 18 months – mostly because the sites have already received some modernization money from the state and won’t be eligible for matching funds until a period of time has elapsed.
And the issue raised by former board member Don Scholl, who oversees turf and artificial fields for a living, about synthetic surfaces becoming a “keeping up with the Joneses” scenario might not come to fruition if former Stockton City Councilman and Manteca board trustee Dale Fritchen is to be believed.
According to Fritchen, the community development fund that Weston Ranch parents want to tap into to finance the lion’s share of the new surface at Weston Ranch High School isn’t intended to be used for that purpose – even going so far to allude to putting the matter before voters with a Proposition 218 challenge that would require just over 200 signatures, he said.
The official decision by the Manteca Unified School Board on whether or not to fully fund the stadium with those fees will be coming in a future meeting after they decided to seek bids for proposal from established companies able to perform the work.