The Lawton Board of Education has approved a new lease agreement for Cameron University’s football stadium, the first step in a plan to replace the playing turf there.

Lawton Public Schools officials have known since last year it was time to replace the turf in the football stadium, action which is the school district’s responsibility because it leases the facility for its football games and other district activities. And, school officials already have included $800,000 in the next round of bond issues for the district’s capital improvements program for that work. Those bonds are scheduled to be awarded by the board at its Feb. 20 meeting, said Corey Miller, with AIP (the district’s architect).

Interim Superintendent Tom Thomas said the district has to replace the turf because it will fail the testing conducted to ensure its surface still is sufficient for play. District officials checked with their bond attorney to make certain the district can fund the project from a bond issue, because that “equipment” is being placed in a facility the district does not own. While LPS is responsible for most of the use on that field, Cameron uses the stadium for baseball, soccer and physical education classes — and still owns it.

Thomas said bond counsel issued an opinion that said Lawton Public Schools can use bond revenue to replace the turf, as long as the length of its lease agreement with Cameron equals the life of the turf, or 10½ years. That’s why the lease agreement was brought back to the school board and renewed, with the term retroactive to Jan. 1, 2020, and ending June 30, 2030 (the end of the 2029-2030 school year).

Thomas said district administrators are moving forward with the replacement project.

“We’ll bring back the turf bids to you very soon,” he told the school board earlier this week.

The agreement between Cameron and Lawton Public Schools specifies LPS will install artificial turf before the existing turf “performs outside of established standards set by industry organizations....” LPS will bear all direct and indirect costs for installing that turf, and construction will include replacement of the subsurface layer and drainage structures, if that work is deemed necessary. The new turf will be tested for hardness and impact a minimum of every two years, the agreement specifies.

Thomas and his administrators acknowledge the investment that LPS is making in Cameron’s facility, but said there are protections in place. Most notably, if Cameron cancels the football stadium lease agreement before its June 30, 2030, end date, it must pay LPS an amortized amount of the turf cost.

District officials said in November that the turf replacement would be among their top priorities for bond and sales tax programs. The turf now on the field is 12 years old and won’t be able to pass the testing that must be conducted each year to ensure it is safe for players, said Gary Dees, LPS athletic director.

“It’s time,” Dees told members of the bond issue review committee in November.

That replacement work would take 45 days to complete, once the turf is ordered, Dees said in November.

The lease agreement also specifies LPS and Cameron will attempt to make other improvements to the stadium, if funding is available. The agreement specifies those improvements and the order to be accomplished, including: new stadium lighting, new restrooms on the lower level, updated concession stand and restrooms on the top level, new press box with elevator and public address system, new fieldhouse (to include dressing rooms, additional coach offices, weight and training rooms), updated seating and railing on the stadium north side, new scoreboard, resurfacing for the parking lot and new fencing. Other projects may be identified during the life of the lease, officials said.

LPS’ intent is to coordinate with Cameron to request public funds or raise private funds for those projects, if possible, under the terms of the lease agreement.

The lease specifies LPS has the right to use the stadium for all home football and soccer games, preseason scrimmages and football/soccer or band practices for all three high schools and the four middle school. Subject to availability, LPS may use the stadium for any playoff or other extended football/soccer season game in which the Lawton high schools may be a participant.

The lease also allows use by LPS for band contests, ROTC functions, graduation exercises and other activities when it is not being used by Cameron. No activity is allowed in the stadium for the week of Cameron’s annual commencement.

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