Fullerton College seeks home field advantage

Fullerton College seeks home field advantage

Lawn signs opposing Fullerton Colleges planned stadium sit on the corner of Chapman and North Princeton Avenue, a block east of the college (Madalyn Amato / Inside Fullerton)

By Jordan Mendoza

Fullerton College’s football team won every game during the 2017 season, capturing the state and national championship for the second straight year. But the one force it can’t seem to defeat is the opposition of its neighbors to its planned stadium.

Fullerton travels eight miles to Yorba Linda High School for home games — denying the team a home field advantage. What’s more, Fullerton’s home playoff games cannot be played at Yorba Linda, forcing the team to seek out yet another stadium.

Adding seating and lighting would make the field compliant and could effectively save the college — and therefore taxpayers — $90,000 a year in transportation, rental, and other costs, according to school officials.

An environmental impact report released in April noted that the funding for the stadium would come from “several years of savings generated from accumulated campus fund carryover” — not from the Measure J bond passed in 2014 for Fullerton College upgrades. The total cost of the project is about $5.5 million, including $2 million in contingencies, escalation, insurance, and other costs, according to preliminary estimates provided by the college.

Opponents of the stadium say that it will increase air, noise and traffic pollution, which the report confirmed as being “potentially significant” impacts.

Sherbeck Field, named after former Fullerton College head coach Hal Sherbeck, is the field that sits on the east side of the school’s campus. Although the facility does include a football field, track, and locker rooms, there are no stadium seats or lights, which are required for a stadium to be in use, under NCAA guidelines.

Fullerton College began to work on an idea that had been around for over 15 years.

“A 1999 master plan [by Fullerton College] called for a field and a stadium, and the field was installed, but never any permanent seating or lights,” said Fullerton College President, Greg Schulz.

Schulz says the stadium was not completed because “there were concerns about a stadium, and the college determined to put the idea on hold.” After Schulz was appointed interim president in 2015, he reignited the conversation.

The renovation would include 4,417 permanent seats, six field light posts, a press box on the south side of the stadium and a sound system for athletic events only. Parking on campus would be free for athletic events as well, according to the environmental impact report.

During Schulz’s first year as Fullerton College’s president, Fullerton Union High School moved its academic calendar to be similar to the college’s, causing each school’s year to end at the same time. Fullerton College was unable to use the high school’s stadium for its commencement ceremony. After exploring options, the college decided to hold it at Sherbeck Field.

“We thought it would be better to do graduation on campus, and it turned out to be awesome. But it did come at a cost,” added Schulz.

Adding bleacher-style seats for the graduation ceremony has cost the school approximately $67,000 a year to rent, according to a press release from Fullerton College. The release also mentions that the cost to play at Yorba Linda High School is over $35,000 a season, which includes renting the field, transporting the team, and providing security.

“We would be saving money with this stadium, and [not just to benefit] the football team, but [to better] serve all students,” said Schulz.

He added that better lighting would mean the college could offer more night classes.

The surrounding area, considered part of the Raymond Hills neighborhood, is the community of homes across Fullerton College on Berkeley Avenue, which stretches from Lemon Street to State College Blvd.

Inside Fullerton conducted an online poll of Raymond Hills residents who use Nextdoor, a private social network for neighborhoods, asking if they wanted Fullerton College to build a stadium. Of the 132 people who voted, 71 percent said they did not support it, while 20 percent said they did. Eight percent of voters did not have an opinion on the issue.

Those surveyed were also able to add comments to the poll, and many opposed to the stadium said they believed it would lower their home values.

“We are against the increased noise, traffic, light pollution, and inevitable trash that a venue like a stadium would bring,” wrote Desiree St. Amant, a Fullerton resident.

“We support Fullerton College’s mission to offer programs and facilities that serve the needs of ALL students…we did not move into the house with the expectation of a 4,500-seat stadium with lights and a sounds system in our backyard,” added St. Amant.

The environmental impact report states that the stadium lights would be on no later than 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 8:30 p.m. on Fridays, 10:30 p.m. on Saturdays, and 6 p.m. on Sundays. The sound system would be on no later than 10 p.m.

Some residents shared solutions to Fullerton College’s stadium problem, including using Titan Stadium at Cal State Fullerton, which is two miles east of Sherbeck Field. Other residents pointed out sharing the stadium at Fullerton Union. The high school recently renovated the stadium for $10.1 million in 2017, with a brand-new field, along with lighting and sound enhancements.

A committee formed by residents of Raymond Hills, named “Share the Stadium,” gives multiple reasons why Fullerton College’s plan is unnecessary: The committee suggests the college use the high school stadium, according to its website. The committee also distributed lawn signs for residents saying “2=Too Much.” The committee could not be reached for comment.

With the community’s concerns in mind, Fullerton College has explored alternatives to the stadium.

Schulz says one of the reasons it isn’t ideal to use Fullerton Union is because there is belief that the new field would get worn down from the constant usage of it. This happened previously when the college played there.

“As for Cal State Fullerton,” said Schulz, “Since it is an NCAA Division I Field, the turf must be in top condition, and because of that, the cost to rent the stadium is more expensive than Yorba Linda.”

There is also an extra fee for renting it during rainy days and when conditions aren’t good. Those fees could include the cost of replacing the entire turf.

A “scoping” meeting had been planned for May 1, 2018 to allow residents to voice any concerns over the recent report. Fullerton plans to start the renovation project in Spring 2019 and hopes to have it done by Fall 2019.

Schulz said he knows that there are two sides to the issue, but he believes that a middle ground can be reached, whether it be having less seats, or adding more temporary seating: “Our number one job is to make sure that we are a good neighbor.”

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