Hillsboro voters to consider outdoor sports complex plan

Monday, Apr 20, 2015

When the school bell rings, members of the Hillsboro-Central Valley Burros track team head to the Hillsboro Events Center and the football field to train.

But there's no track to welcome them.

The sprinters run on the grass field; high jumpers leap in the gym; the hurdlers practice their strides in the gym or on the street; the long jumpers soar through the claustrophobic confines of a hallway connecting the gym to Hillsboro Elementary School.

School district and many community members hope to change that soon. Voters will go to the polls Tuesday to decide the fate of a $1.5 million Outdoor Sports Complex improvement project.

Polls are open from 7:30 a.m. until 7 p.m.

"The decision to invest in an outdoor sports complex is important to the continued success and vitality of the community of Hillsboro," Superintendent Paula Pederson said.

School district officials and community leaders say this is an ideal time for this project, because it can be completed without any new taxes. Rather, they say, taxes would decrease.

That's because an existing 14-mill school district bond to finance half of the 12-year-old Hillsboro Events Center is expected to be paid off in June.

If Tuesday's bond issue is approved—and it takes a 60-percent majority—the new bond would be half of what taxpayers already are paying for construction projects.

If approved, owners of a $100,000 house would pay about $31 a year for the bond, rather than the current $62; and owners of farmland 40 cents per acre, or $65.60 per quarter (160 acres) of land, rather and 80 cents per acre or $130 per quarter.

"It's perfect timing," Pederson said.

Project plans

If approved, the improvements would be made to the present sports complex, which includes football and baseball fields, but no track. The present complex also contains aging concessions, restrooms and few other amenities.

Here are some of the improvements included in the project:

• New 8-lane track around the existing football field

• New bleachers, with ramp, to seat more than 500, plus a new media box

• A 60-by-20-foot concession stand with restrooms

• New light poles and lights

• Designated areas for track and field events, including shot put and discus

• Relocation of the current press box to the adjacent baseball field

• New baseball field outfield fence and scoreboard

• Improvements to baseball field dugouts

• New, moveable baseball field bleachers

• New fence around the entire complex

Community campaign

"There's no question we need this," said Rich Gehrke, a local businessman who chairs the local "Yes" committee, which has conducted 13 public meetings since it formed in January.

The 100 "Yes" yard signs the committee had made line streets throughout this Traill County city of 1,600, located halfway between Grand Forks and Fargo.

"We're all out," he said this past week when a call came in from a resident looking for one for her yard.

While the campaign has been a positive experience, so far, it hasn't been opposition-free.

Gehrke said some have complained, contending farmers are being asked to shoulder the burden of the tax.

"There's a good number of farmers who are supportive," he said.

Pederson said businesses throughout the city not only have placed the "Yes" signs, some have used their own marketing tools to promote the project.

The Hillsboro Banner, the local weekly newspaper, has published a series of favorable editorials, too.

"Granted, the 14 mills coming off the tax rolls, offset by the seven mills coming on the same tax roll, still leaves a tax on the school district property owner," an editorial in a recent Hillsboro Banner pointed out. "But, in return, we'll have an upgraded outdoor sports facility that will compare with any in the region. We're not talking bragging rights here. It's much more than that; this is something we need."

Growing program

About 70 students, from junior high through high school are participating in track this year, according to Pederson.

"We're developing a good running program in Hillsboro," she said, noting the four consecutive North Dakota High School girls cross country championships and one boy's cross country regional title over the past four years.

Already this young spring track season, three girls have qualified for the state meet.

"Their success has helped get more boys out," Pederson said.

They hope that success translates into a positive result in Tuesday's election.

"It's looking good, from everything we've seen," Gehrke said. "But you never know until the votes are in."

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