Franklin County's Emily Allen (23) gets ready to kick the ball as Frankfort's Claire Irish (13) comes in on defense during the 41st District Tournament Tuesday at Sower Soccer Complex. (Linda Younkin)

The city and county schools want the Frankfort City Commission to contribute $1.5 million toward new synthetic turf fields at the city and county high schools.

Frankfort Independent Schools Superintendent Houston Barber and Franklin County Schools Superintendent Mark Kopp addressed the commission at its Monday night meeting and sent a formal letter to the city outlining a plan for the upgrades.

While the upgrades would benefit the student-athletes who use the fields, both superintendents said improved athletic facilities would benefit Frankfort's economy, since the school systems plan to open the fields for public use, such as tournaments.

The school districts want the city to give about $500,000 for each of the three fields to be upgraded to synthetic turf. The plan would be implemented in phases and could open up the fields to multiple sports, like football, soccer and band competitions, Barber told the commission. He said that an estimate for one new field is $1 million.

The two school districts currently use the fields at Capitol View Park for home soccer games. After the complex was used for the 11th Region Boys’ Soccer Tournament in October, fans and visiting media voiced displeasure with the facilities.

“The why is we want to make an impact on this city economically and we want to drive change. We want to change how people come into our city, how people think about our city and also support our children,” Barber told the city commission Monday.

Barber said the school districts are not allowed to use bonding capacity for athletic facilities, but they can use limited general fund dollars.

“We all want the same thing. We want our community to grow and we want our city to grow,” Kopp said during the meeting. He said that the complex has been “wonderful” for the school districts. The school districts will make a similar request of the Franklin County Fiscal Court, Kopp said.

Commissioner Scott Tippett said the commission would have to look at all projects in the community to determine “how we get the most bang for our buck.” He said the city has $3.9 million available to reinvest in the community. He asked the superintendents to give the city time to contemplate the request.

City Manager Keith Parker, who has previously coached soccer for a team at Elkhorn Middle School, said that it’s hard for coaches and parents to lead the upkeep at the fields for games. He said that he personally thinks synthetic turf fields should be at the schools, so students don’t have to travel from school to practice.

“While I don’t agree with the complete ask that you’ve made, I think there is an arrangement that could be made for a certain amount of money that the city would want some guarantees. We don’t want to supplement the schools’ budget. We want an economic return,” Parker said.

Commissioner Katrisha Waldridge voiced support for the upgrades, adding that she would like to see kids on synthetic turf fields on Aug. 1. She asked Parker to keep the idea in the forefront of future city commission meetings.

“The money is there. We just have to say yes,” she said. “We can’t keep talking about processes; we’ve got to do.”

Commissioner Eric Whisman said that families are now choosing where they can live and that facilities play an important role in their decisions. He asked to see a fiscal policy for the plan that would show the city’s economic return.

“The next generation is evaluating community to community,” Whisman said. “No one is stuck in place anymore. They are choosing where to live because of the amenities, because of the parks and the assets and the perceived value of that community first and foremost before they decide where is the most important place for the job.”

Mayor Bill May said that he was involved with the development of some of the amenities at Capitol View Park around 1999, and the city has experienced a lot of growth in the number of activities that come to Frankfort to use those facilities. He said that at the time, the city did discuss how it would go about future renovations.

“It was money well spent, I believe, and I think now we are seeing the need to go to the next level,” May said.

Barber said following the meeting that he believed the commission understood the need the community has for the fields.

After the meeting, Kopp said that upgrades would benefit more than the students who use the fields. The fields could bring in visitors to Frankfort if they were able to host multi-sport activities or band competitions. The upgrades could be a catalyst for community growth, he said, working as an incentive with other opportunities in the school districts, like the Georgetown College tuition scholarship.

“If this community grows, everyone prospers as part of that,” Kopp said.

During citizen comments, Bo Craycraft, a soccer parent, and James Rue, a soccer coach in the region, urged the city commission to support upgrades to Capitol View Park. The upgrades needed include new synthetic turf fields, new bathrooms, improved lighting and more.

The commission agreed that should be a goal, but it will need to approach the state about the future of the park since the state owns the land and the city leases it. Parker said the lease expires in 2023.

Waldridge expressed concerns about investing a significant amount of money in upgrading the park when the city doesn’t own it.

Other business

During citizen comments, Frankfort resident Kathy Warren asked the city commission to give the Franklin County Humane Society the money they’ve requested to build a new animal shelter.

“Some believe that the humane society should move to The State Journal building, I, however, believe it would be too costly,” Warren said. “... I am asking you, the city commission, to support Sam (Marcus) to build a new building for the Humane Society.”

Warren concluded her time at the podium by showing city commission a check she wrote for Marcus, the Humane Society president, to deposit into the new building fund. She did not disclose the amount of the check.

Last week, Parker and Franklin County Judge-Executive Huston Wells asked the Humane Society to reconsider its decision not to purchase The State Journal building on Wilkinson Boulevard. The 19,000-square-foot building is listed for $1.5 million, and the Humane Society says renovations on the building to meet the shelter’s needs are estimated to be at $5 million. Parker said last week that estimate is a little high.

Wells and Parker argued that if the Humane Society chooses The State Journal building, it could move into a new facility quicker and would likely receive money from the county and the city to purchase the building.

The Humane Society originally approached the fiscal court and city commission in 2018 about plans to build a brand new animal shelter for $5 million. In 2018, it asked the governing bodies for $1.6 million each with the promise of raising $2 million on its own. The fiscal court and city commission would not commit to that figure.

In December, the Humane Society passed a resolution on a new shelter plan, estimated to cost $4 million. The group's board also unanimously rejected the idea of purchasing The State Journal building. The new proposal asks the city and county for $1 million each — $900,000 cash and $100,000 in in-kind contributions.

The Humane Society plans to still raise $2 million of its own money for the project and says it already has $1.1 million pledged.

Marcus briefly spoke during citizen comments Monday night, reminding the city commission of the Humane Society’s December resolution.

Parker said he was hopeful that the city and county could reach a decision with the Humane Society soon.

During new business, Whisman shared he recently learned the city has around $61,000 in unpaid parking tickets. He suggested that the city explore encouraging citizens to pay their fines by offering to allocate the funds to a new animal shelter.

City staff said they would look into it.

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