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Ashland School District reaches funding goal to replace football field, is accepting bids

Ashland High School will get its new football field, and the incoming senior football players may get a chance to play on it, too.

A $100,000 donation from Lithia Motors and a $50,000 pledge from local Ashland High football supporter Max McKee helped the Ashland School District exceed its fundraising goal of $850,000 to install a new synthetic turf football field at Walter A. Phillips Field, the district announced Wednesday.

Ashland High alum and Kansas City Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie got the ball rolling on the project in March by announcing a $650,000 donation.

Ashland High athletic director Karl Kemper and district superintendent Jay Hummel told the Ashland school board during a meeting on July 1 that the necessary funds had been raised and that the district could hire an engineer and start accepting bids.

In a press release sent out Wednesday morning, the district raised the possibility that the field may be completed in time to be used by the AHS football “at least once" during its upcoming season. The Grizzlies open their 2015-16 season Sept. 4 at home against Klamath Union and wrap up their home schedule Oct. 23 against Marist. Ashland may also host playoff games.

While the field is being installed, the Grizzlies will play their home games at Raider Stadium. The Pacific Rim Bowl, scheduled for July 31, will also be played at Raider Stadium.

“Having a multi-purpose artificial turf field on campus will increase our ability to serve our students and community exponentially,” Kemper said in the release. “The vast improvement of our facility, where we have had to limit use to a bare minimum in the past, will create countless opportunities for the kids of Ashland to engage in healthy activities for years to come. The people of this community never cease to amaze me with their generosity in support of our youth.”

Lithia Motors founder Sid DeBoer and his wife Karen both graduated from Ashland High and, in addition to the Lithia donation, have also pledged $15,000 from their personal foundation. Another $10,000 was donated from Lithia CEO Bryan DeBoer and his wife Stephanie.

“Although a donation of this size is unusual for Lithia, we couldn’t bear the thought that the school might not be able to capitalize on (Guthrie’s) generosity,” Sid DeBoer said. “We’re happy that our contribution and the liberal donations of a few others will get this project off the ground and will help energize the community to raise any additional funds that might be needed to complete the field. Go Grizz!”

Besides the DeBoer and McKee donations, the district also received $15,000 from the AHS Booster Club, $10,000 from TC Chevy and $5,000 each from Adroit Construction and the Ashland Kiwanis Club. According to the press release, the district has raised a total of $863,000 and will continue to seek donations “in order to cover additional construction costs that may arise and field maintenance.” However, the release added, “The Ashland School District will shoulder the cost of replacing all of the field lights, along with other soft costs like architectural work and permitting.”

The new field will be lined for both soccer and football, with its soccer dimensions listed on an artist rendering at 60 yards wide by 120 yards long. Those dimensions fit within the parameters allowed by the Oregon School Activities Association, which has adopted the National Federation of State High School Associations standards. Unlike football fields, which are uniform and devoid of wiggle room, NFHS-approved soccer fields have a size range. The width can be 55 to 80 yards and the length 100 to 120 yards.

The school board has asked the district to look into cost estimates for a slightly larger 65-yard width, and the fundraising committee is targeting soccer supporters to help fund the added cost should those plans prove feasible.

“But,” the release added, “if donations are not identified by the time the school board considers the cost estimates later this month, the field will move ahead at the level that is currently affordable.”

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@dailytidings.com.