AUSTIN (KXAN) - New turf, better bleachers and a district-wide swimming pool is just a small snapshot of the items on a long list of upgrades on the table for the Austin Independent School District athletic program. District leaders say the potential renovations, which total $189 million, can pay off in the classroom.
"We've got to be sure it's more needs than wants," said Austin ISD Athletic Director Tommy Cox.
He has been working with coaches and principals to compile the list since last spring, and believes it would get Austin students on a level playing field with surrounding schools with state-of-art facilities like Lake Travis, Westlake and Round Rock.
"We just feel we're not there right now and we need to have that," said Cox.
The 10-year life span on the artificial turf is almost up at Burger Stadium, House Park and Nelson Field. It will need to be replaced at various times over the next five years.
But the majority of upgrades are on campuses. New gyms, locker rooms and practice fields are on the list. Cox says schools saw very little of the last round of bond money voters approved to benefit athletic facilities in 2004.
The Bowie High School varsity football dressing room is one spot that has become cramped over the years. Lockers line the walls and four rows were added in the middle of the room.
New ice machines at middle schools also made the wish list.
District leaders say the focus is on more than improving performances on the field.
AISD has done the math. They say their athletes have better attendance than non-athletes, higher state test scores, graduation rates and fewer discipline problems.
"We're excited about that," said Cox. "We want to increase the participation because we feel like the coaching platform and athletics can do so much for kids."
The district also believes the renovations would help them compete for the best coaches, and keep them around longer. Some districts offer several "duty days" for coaches to go out and recruit other high quality coaches.
Cox knows there will be critics who would rather see the cash going straight into the classroom.
"We can understand concern, I'm a taxpayer myself, I understand that," said Cox. "But we love our children and when we do something like this it shows them that we really care. It's something that really makes a difference in their lives."
Monday night the school board discussed the plan at a special work session. Before the end of the year, they are expected to decide if they want to hold a bond election.
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