NEW MANCHESTER - Football stadiums are supposed to be a place where communities come together, but sometimes they're a source of division.
A case in point is the new Oak Glen Multi-Sports Complex, which is being readied for the 2012-2013 fall sports season. Although the stadium is not exclusively for public school use, private organizations are learning that access comes with a price.
Officials with the Oak Glen Junior Bears, a non-profit youth sports organization, are unhappy that they're going to be charged $500 a day to use the Oak Glen football stadium. The Junior Bears need the stadium for four Sunday afternoon home games, bringing the price tag to $2,000.
"This is our future high school team and a great group of kids, who deserve a great place to play football at a decent price," said Melisa Michael, a Chester mother of two Junior Bears. "I feel the West Virginia taxpayers need to make a stand for our children."
Michael said it's not fair that Hancock County residents, already footing the bill for the stadium's construction through higher property taxes, should be charged a "ridiculously high price" for the use of that stadium.
A similar fee reportedly is being charged to the Weirton Steelers organization for use of the new Jimmy Carey Stadium on the Weir High School campus.
But Hancock County school officials say the new stadium necessitates a new fee schedule because of higher operating costs. The Hancock County Board of Education recently revised the fee schedule for outside groups accordingly:
$500 per usage for the multi-sports complex (at Oak Glen or Weir High schools);
$300 per usage for the Field of Dreams baseball/softball complex;
$300 per usage for the high school or middle school gymnasium (at Oak Glen or Weir);
$300 per usage for the high school theater;
$250 per usage for a multipurpose room; and
$100 per usage for a classroom or library.
The fee schedule dates back to 1974 but hasn't always been enforced, Superintendent Suzan Smith said. The latest revisions were posted on the school district's website for public comment, but no comments were received, Smith said.
The policy, as revised in 2001, set a fee of $575 for lights and maintenance at the Newell football stadium, Smith said. "Actually, it's cheaper now," she said.
Smith said the $500 covers the cost of maintenance, operation of the scoreboard, lights and public address system, and cleanup.
"These people will now be working while these events are taking place and have to be compensated, and that's the reason for the price," Smith said.
Junior Bears Commissioner Chris Skeeles, of New Cumberland, said he understands the need for a fee; he just wishes it wasn't so much.
"We're thankful to have a place to play for these kids," Skeeles said. "We would like to see the fee at least lowered, but I don't think it's going to happen."
Skeeles said the team didn't pay anything to the school district for the use of the Newell stadium, although it did cover the cost of cleanup and maintenance.
Having to pay $500 per home game will be a hardship on team, which normally uses gate receipts for uniforms, equipment and other team costs, he said. The Junior Bears are part of the Steel Valley Football League.
Skeeles hopes a local business will step forward and help cover the cost for the four home games. In the meantime, some Junior Bears parents plan to raise the issue at Monday's school board meeting. The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. in the board room, which is in the basement of the New Cumberland City Building.
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