By J. Mike Blake
RALEIGH The Athens Drive High School students, parents and faculty who attended the Raleigh City Council meeting Tuesday afternoon -- and there were about 80 of them -- waited almost two hours to hear the words they had been hoping for, and were almost told "come back later."
After a few last-minute tweaks and some deliberation on -- of all things -- the location of certain sewer lines, those Athens Drive supporters left the meeting happy.
By unanimous vote, the council approved Athens Drive to begin the first renovations to the school’s football/soccer/lacrosse facility, Williams Stadium, since the school opened in 1978. Athens Drive’s requests for construction of a field house, new press box, upgraded field lighting, a paved parking lot, renovated restrooms and handicap-accessible seating and access can now be brought before Wake County Public School Systems to be placed on its next construction bond.
The renovations are estimated to total more than $7.4 million.
As the Athens Drive students -- many dressed in their football uniforms or the school’s orange-and-blue colors -- and others applauded the council’s approval, mayor Nancy McFarlane joked that all who attended should receive extra credit in their government class for sitting through the discussions.
"We had a great crowd. I’m so proud of them," said Karin Evanoff, Athens Drive booster club president. "They’re good kids and good parents and fantastic administrators... It is a relief but I think our work is just getting started."
Because Williams Stadium is on city property, and renovations or upgrades must be approved by the city council before WCPSS can set aside funding to a project. Previous efforts amid bureaucratic wrangling over who was responsible.
Two amendments were added to address environmental concerns.
The stadium’s gravel parking lot will be specifically paved over with pervious pavement, which is more expensive but better suited to handle stormwater runoff.
The other amendment was to change the original proposal’s location of sewer lines that would extend from a new field house in the south end of the stadium. Instead of going through a wooded buffer between Lake Johnson and Williams Stadium, the lines will now go to the north of the stadium.
Councilman Thomas Crowder made both amendments. While the one on parking lot surface was approved with little discussion, the location of the sewer lines nearly derailed the Athens Drive cause, which has had its share of setbacks in recent decades as the stadium fell behind.
The council pressed for details on why the parks and recreation board had recommended that the sewer lines extending from the proposed field house would cut through the wooded area towards Lake Johnson and possibly affect the lake’s ecosystem.
After nearly amending that the field house be placed in the north end zone, which would have created foot traffic problems, the council approved placing the field house in its desired south end zone location with a lift and pump needed for the sewer lines to flow to the north end of the stadium.
"It’s perfectly fine," said Evanoff of the sewer lines. "The field house location was a big concern... it would’ve been a nightmare having it in the northern location rather than the southern. We’ll figure out the sewer aspect of it at a later date."
The next WCPSS construction bond is set for 2013.
Evanoff said she will look into speaking with WCPSS about possible ways to expedite Athens’ upgrades.
Students who attended the meeting said the idea of seeing a new and improved Williams Stadium were "exciting" and will be used as "motivation."
Some, like sophomore football player Domonique Lynch, said going to other WCPSS stadiums have made theirs look even more inadequate.
"Compared to (their stadiums), ours looks like straight-up trash," Lynch said.
Two other issues were discussed but not voted on: whether or not Pauls Street, the access road to Williams Stadium, would be widened to allow better emergency vehicle access; and if neighboring Thea Lane -- a dead end street -- would connect to the new Athens Drive parking lot to help the flow of traffic.