When voters in the Katy Independent School District thought they were approving $58 million for a brand-new stadium in 2014, it’s a pretty good bet that they didn’t know that didn’t include the cost of clearing the land for that stadium.
Turns out, that was an add-on, as determined and approved by KISD trustees at a May 2015 board meeting. More than $795,000 was taken out of the district’s General Operating Fund to pay for what most people would consider an essential component of building, well, pretty much anything – but that KISD spokeswoman Maria DiPetta insisted valiantly Tuesday was not.
The Houston Press tried to speak with KISD Superintendent Lance Hindt for a couple of days after news reports in the Houston Chronicle and on the website Covering Katy broke about what were called cost overruns and add-ons that meant an additional $12.3 million will be spent on the already pricey stadium and facilities around it – taking the total package to more than $70 million. But although we were told Hindt (who, granted, wasn’t on board while all this was going on but is speaking for the district now) really did want to speak to us, he just couldn’t fit us into his schedule.
Enter DiPetta, who said that people are misunderstanding and that the $58 million was ever only supposed to cover the actual structure: “which was the 12,000-seat stadium, the press box, restrooms, concessions and field house and the parking around it.” Clearing the land – well, that just wasn’t part of it.
In 2013 Katy voters rejected a $69.5 million, 14,000-seat stadium that was the largest part by far of a total $99 million bond election. Never-say-die administrators sliced and diced and got the new proposal down to a purported $58 million stadium, which they plunked in the middle of a $748 million take-it-or-leave-it bond election that, among other things, provided for a number of new schools and renovations for existing ones to alleviate overcrowded conditions. The new approach worked; they got their new stadium.
Since then, trustees have been approving additional expenditures, such as another $6,944,457 in infrastructure money from the 2014 bond issue for drainage, utilities and “some roadwork” to serve the multi-purpose Student Activity Facilities complex.
Critics say by labeling each vote as being about the “Student Activity Facilities complex” administrators and trustees were purposefully misdirecting voters who didn’t realize these were funds directed for additional stadium costs. DiPetta insisted Tuesday that there was always a line item in the 2014 bond election setting aside $10 million for infrastructure – which there certainly is – and so voters approved that as well.
“They called it a student activity facility because they were running as far away from the stadium as they could get,” Dennis Spellman, who has been critical of the Katy Stadium expenditure in writing about it for CoveringKaty.com told the Press.
Spellman (who calls the new stadium “America’s most expensive football stadium”) agreed that yes there was money set aside for infrastructure costs in the $748 million bond. “But voters thought that was for infrastructure for other things,” he said, not the stadium.
Spellman said when he talked to Hindt earlier this week, the superintendent told him that no one who votes on a $58 million bond expenditure should ever expect that to be the total amount.
And that seems to be exactly the philosophy adopted by the trustees and KISD administration.
Continuing to use that vague "activities facility" heading, trustees also managed to add back in items previously removed to lower the voted-upon costs such as building out the shell space of the second stadium field house to the tune of $2,904,312. This was passed in December 2015 and will be taken out of bond savings from the 2010 bond election.
Another $1,690,815 was approved in April 2016 for additional roadwork around the stadium, again taken from the 2010 bond program savings and again labeled as going to the Student Activity Facilities complex rather than the stadium. (DiPetta said that thanks to the economy not doing well earlier, the district was able to stretch its 2010 bond program money much farther than expected.)
While DiPetta agreed that the total is going to top $70 million, she said that includes “the new and old stadium, Raines High School, Miller Technology Center, Shaw Center and the Opportunity and Awareness Center.”
Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack has raised concerns about what he sees as potential traffic and safety problems by locating the new stadium right next to the old one. “It creates hazards, makes it difficult for law enforcement and emergency services in general,” he predicted.
But DiPetta, while being careful to say that KISD administrators have a great deal of respect for Radack, said they only went forward with their plans after consulting with city and county engineers.
“We estimate how many people are going to be arriving at these games. Even if there’s two games at one time. We’ll be able to handle it. It’s going to be good. It’s going to work,” she predicted.
There was discussion of locating one stadium to the other side of the district from the present one, she said, but in the end it was decided it was best to pair them to make the area into a mega-complex. She added that besides sport events, it could become a center for concerts or nights out community events.
Former KISD school board member Mary McGarr, who was on the board from 1991 to 96, said that she’s heard from a number of people upset by the latest news of the costs associated with the stadium.
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“People say what they’re doing is not right. People are angry they’re spending money on a football stadium that they ought to be spending on students,” she said.
The district continues to insist the stadium is not over budget – that the $58 million will cover exactly what the district said it would cover when it presented the bond election to voters. And that even if the second stadium had not been built, the other infrastructure changes would have had to be made on that site.
“This is a state-of-the-art stadium,” DiPetta said. “It’s going to be cost efficient. This is what the people voted for.”
Well, maybe so.