By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Santa Rosa City Council chambers had a burgundy backdrop Wednesday evening, as a 20-strong contingent of Piner High students and boosters showed up to lend their faces —– and in some cases their voices —– to a cause they see as both important and overlooked. They want lights at the Piner High football field.
Each of the other 14 schools in the North Bay League and Sonoma County League (Piner moved from the former to the latter three years ago), and each of the other four high school campuses in the Santa Rosa City Schools district, features football under the lights on Friday nights. It’s iconic. It’s exciting.
At Piner, home games are played under the sun on Saturday afternoons.
“It would be much easier for our team to play at night, and we’d get more students to come out and support us,” incoming senior Dillon Riveras, wearing his No. 1 jersey, told the SRCS Board of Education at its regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday. “Because on Saturdays we have maybe 30 students and mostly parents, so it’s not showing a lot of school spirit.”
The Piner kids and parents brought up other points. School snack bars generate a lot more revenue on a Friday night than on a Saturday afternoon. (Such revenue pays for, among other things, referees.) And with Piner’s artificial turf field boosting temperatures, those day games can be withering on the fully padded and helmeted players.
“It’s up to 10, 15 degrees hotter on the (artificial) field,” said Scott Simpson Jr., a wide receiver and outside linebacker for the Prospectors. “With pads as well, that’s more weight. It gets a lot hotter, a lot sweatier, and you need a lot more water. Especially with that mouthpiece in your mouth, you’ll be gagging.”
Debi Stanley, who spoke at the meeting, told the Press Democrat afterward that her daughter Kyra, now a sophomore, got heat stroke three times last year while cheerleading on the sidelines.
Piner’s wish is not a new development. The school’s supporters have been working to get lights for years; Riveras told the board he has older siblings who were involved in fundraising as long ago as 2007. But the project seems to have stalled.
Now Stanley and another mom, Heather Payne, are trying to accelerate the process. Deeming the Piner administration’s recent efforts too “politically correct,” they are taking a more aggressive stance.
Stanley and Payne contacted the ACLU, which suggested filing a Williams complaint, a formal procedure that regards “urgent facilities conditions that pose a threat to the health and safety of pupils,” among other problems. Stanley said she also has been in communication with a private attorney.
“What hit me hard was going down to the Petaluma game on a Friday night, and it was the first away game I had gotten to go to,” Payne said. “And we had more parents show up, and more students from our school show up in Petaluma for a Friday night game than they do at a Saturday game.”
The moms say they just want what the other Santa Rosa schools have. The other four campuses in the SRCS district all installed lights between 2004 and 2008. But as the school board has pointed out, all of them followed a specific set of 10 steps laid out by district policy.
Those steps include the initial study and preparation of an environmental impact report (or EIR), the authorization of a competitive bidding process for equipment, and the acquisition and installation of lighting.
After several years of effort, Piner has completed six of the 10 items on list, up to and including certification of the EIR. But that happened in 2011, according to Payne and Stanley. Since then, the project has gone almost nowhere, and the moms are frustrated.
The next step in the process is “authorization to conduct a competitive bid for the purchase of football field lighting and related equipment.” Stanley said she and Payne have been urging the board of education to address this item since October.
“They’re a roadblock,” Stanley said.
Wednesday, the board received information from staff on the lighting issue, but did not publicly discuss it.
Still, SRCS assistant superintendent Steven Eichman rejected the idea that the district is dismissive of Piner’s lighting deficit, noting that every board of education meeting includes agenda items that the members simply aren’t able to get to. For example, in June the board had to wade through both its annual budget and the sweeping Local Control and Accountability Plan. Time constraints forced the postponement of less urgent items.
“It doesn’t mean any of those items are not important,” Eichman said.
Even if the process moves forward, the Piner community has a looming challenge: fundraising. The school district did not pay for the EIRs or the lighting equipment at the other four Santa Rosa campuses. Montgomery and Santa Rosa high schools, for example, took out bank loans to fund their projects. SRCS did pay for Maria Carrillo’s lights; the school is in the process of repaying the district.
The cost for each of those projects was approximately $200,000.
As Payne and Stanley pointed out, raising $200,000 at Piner High, which is 57 percent Latino and located in a working-class neighborhood, might be a bit tougher than raising $200,000 at Maria Carrillo High.
The Piner boosters, however, are confident they can raise the funds if they get administrative support from the district.
“Yes. We’ll do what it takes,” Payne said.
Simpson knows that even if Piner is able to secure money for the installation of lights, it will be too late for his high school career. He just hopes younger crops of Prospectors can experience the thrill of Friday night football.
“There’s nothing like it,” Simpson said. “You feel like it’s big-time. You feel the lights on you, and you’re not getting tired as quickly. … When you’re playing with lights, you feel like you’re alive.”
You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @Skinny_Post.