It isn't every day you see a fresh-from-the-office school superintendent, shovel in hand, turning over dirt.
But that's exactly what Kathryn Hott, superintendent at Springfield Local Schools, did last week, accompanied by her Board of Education.
The occasion was the ceremonial groundbreaking for the much anticipated $7 million overhaul of the district's athletic infrastructure.
"This will be a significant asset for our sports program and an enhancement for the community," Ms. Hott said.
School board President Everett Harris said the project would "update our facilities so they match the facilities of surrounding communities."
The project will transfer the baseball and softball fields to part of 39 acres of property the district owns at the southeast corner of Angola and Albon roads, about a half mile west of Springfield Township's Community Homecoming Park.
Six new tennis courts, with bleachers, will be installed at the site of the girls' softball field at McCord Road and Hall Street.
The running track will be moved to the location vacated by the baseball field, and a soccer field will be put in the center.
The new football stadium will be relocated 30 feet back from where the current one stands, thereby creating space for a school bus loop between the high school and middle school.
A weight room and lockers will be added to the second floor of Springfield High School.
The tennis courts and softball and baseball fields should be done by the start of the school year, and the rest of the project by fall of 2009, Ms. Hott said, adding that the facilities would be available for use by Springfield residents and parochial schools.
The superintendent said she and the board are committed to bringing the project in on budget - a challenge given that the cost of building materials is skyrocketing.
"This is a real worry for us. Even the rising cost of diesel fuel to operate the construction machinery is something we're concerned about and paying close attention to," she said.
In November, voters approved a 1.1-mill bond levy to pay for the athletic facilities upgrade and to refinance existing debt at a significantly lower rate.
The levy was touted as a "no-new taxes" millage because it was rolled into the 3 mills the school system has been collecting for debt service all along, so the owner of a $100,000 home continues to pay $25 a year after the adoption of the new tax.
The district's athletic facilities have been in ragged condition for years. The track and tennis courts are badly cracked, and parts of the tennis courts have subsided. The football field's sidelines are so close to a chain-link fence as to be a potential safety hazard.
Sixteen acres at Angola and Albon are being reserved for a future elementary school.