Sports complex tangled in Basalt school’s ad debate
Larry Walker, the Colorado Rockies baseball player, could contribute a bundle of money and get a proposed Basalt sports complex near the high school named after him.
Johnny Walker, the whiskey maker, couldn’t.
After that the rules aren’t so simple.
Basalt boosters’ efforts to raise $1.4 million for a sports complex for student athletes and community members are tangled in a school district debate over rules governing corporate sponsorships. The complex would be on school property.
Parents of Basalt kids have formed a nonprofit organization called Field of Dreams to raise the money necessary for athletic fields, locker rooms and fan bleachers that the Roaring Fork School District couldn’t afford when it built the high school in the mid-1990s.
Fund-raisers plan to approach national and even international corporations as well as local individuals and businesses.
But who exactly they can accept funds from and what big donors receive in return may be dictated by the five members of the board of education. Board members debated what type of “corporate partnerships” are appropriate Wednesday night, and it was evident they are split.
Board members Tresi Houpt and Sue Hakanson balked at the prospect of subjecting students to corporate advertising in banners and signs posted around the baseball and softball fields or running track.
“I would hate to have such a loose policy where we subject our kids to huge signs,” said Houpt. “I’m a fan of partnerships but I’m not a fan of signs on school property.”
Hakanson said she would prefer collecting funds through grants and from companies that want to help without strings attached.
“What we need to be really clear about is what does it look like when they want something in return,” she said.
“We will be tasteful,” responded Jo Gawrys, co-chairwoman of Field of Dreams. “It won’t be neon signs. It won’t be gaudy or ugly.”
Gawrys stressed that the organization doesn’t want to promote ads that exploit kids, but some recognition for major contributors is necessary to make the proposal attractive.
“If we had a choice it might be different,” said Gawrys, in reference to the lack of school district funds for athletics.
Existing school district policy prohibits recognition for alcohol or tobacco makers. Soft drink companies are also prohibited. But Houpt pressed hard for a broader policy that accepts signs only from companies with “equitable business practices” as well as those which promote “healthy lifestyles.”
Board members Robin Garvik and Bruce Matherly balked at creating what they labeled subjective criteria. They discussed several examples of how companies could be assessed differently based on individual preferences, politics and lifestyles.
The school board, which was missing member Lon Winston, concluded it needs more work on its corporate partnership policy. Field of Dreams was told it can start seeking funds, but it cannot cut any deals for the naming of athletic fields or even placement of signs without review by the school board.
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