NFL’s gift to RPS could be too expensive to accept

Posted at 5:16 PM, Sep 12, 2013
and last updated 2013-09-13 06:36:25-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) -- Monday night Richmond School board members will have to decide whether to accept a gift from the National Football League.

"We may find ourselves in one of those positions where we can't afford a gift,” said Jeff Bourne, Chair of the Richmond Public School Board.

In March of 2013, without the consent or knowledge of the newly elected school board, a group of school advocates from John Marshall High School, along with former Superintendent Yvonne Brandon, organized a grant application to the NFL for the renovation of the John Marshall football fields.

Just recently the school district learned they had been approved for a  $200,000 grant to put a synthetic turf football field at the school. However, in order to receive the funds, RPS has to match the $200,000, and it would then cost an additional $400,000 to finish the job.

"It's a near impossibility to justify the expense," said Kim Gray, RPS school board member.

Even before the issue reached the school board Monday night, the estimated $700,000 to a million dollars cost of the project has several board members including Gray asking why so much money would be spent on just one field when so much else that needs repair.

"We can barely heat and cool our existing schools, we can't afford to do luxury items like an NFL-grade football field," said Gray.

School board member Kristen Larson opposes the expense and pointed out that the field renovation will cost more than half of the yearly capital improvement budget for RPS, which is $700,000 dollars. That money is all that’s allotted to maintain roughly 50 RPS buildings.

"We need to prioritize and make sure all of our students are in safe and sound schools," said Larson.

The city administration has offered to put up $150,000 toward the matching the NFL funds.

Despite our request to the Mayor's office, we couldn't get a direct answer on where that money will originate. Bourne said he supports improving RPS athletic fields but hopes the board can find a reasonable way to pay for it.

"Do we need to do this level of renovation or are there things that are more immediate, do we need synthetic turf or can we go with natural grass?” Bourne explained the questions they are asking.

Interim Superintendent Jon Lewis tells CBS 6 there could be a less expensive renovation solution in the works with the NFL that he will discuss in more detail at Monday’s meeting.

The NFL expects a decision on whether the school plans to accept the grant and match the funds by the end of next week.