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Neighbors Upset with Holmes High School Field Renovation

This story has been updated.

Improvements at Tom Ellis Stadium have caused concerns for neighbors of Holmes High School.

Members of the Wallace Woods Neighborhood Association visited last week's meeting of the Covington Board of Education to offer criticism of the project. The neighbors criticized some of the tree removal that has taken place as well as the way the district is paying for the project. In 2014, the Tom Ellis Athletic Memorial (TEAM) Foundation announced that it would attempt to raise $1 million for the purpose of renovating the field named for Holmes's longtime coach and athletic director.

Between a half dozen football games, some soccer matches, and graduation, the grass at the nearly 80-year old stadium takes an annual beating.

The school cannot host elementary events, welcomes just a few middle school competitions, and the marching band can't use it at all. The previous Bermuda grass is older than any Holmes student and costs $50,000 a year in maintenance. Those deficiencies inspired the renovation effort.

Late in 2014, the TEAM Foundation announced that it had secured a large grant and raised more than $270,000. The cost of the new, synthetic-grass field itself is approximately $550,000. A new track is expected to cost $125,000 and a new scoreboard $40,000. The TEAM Foundation also wants to create a $250,000 endowment to maintain the field during its useful life of approximately 10 years. In 2015, the foundation turned to alumni to raise more funds.

To date, TEAM Foundation was able to raise more than $400,000, but some of the work taking place at the field was financed by the school board's decision to issue bonds. As work began last year, Holmes and Holy Cross were forced to move their home football games to other locations.

"The whole thing has been kind of sneaky, like this was all supposed to be contributions," said neighbor Barb Horsley, speaking to the board of education on Thursday. "So, I am a contributor because it is my tax money going to something that is supposed to be contributions."

Additionally, the neighbors complained of noise levels related to music blaring from speakers controlled at the press box not only when Holmes teams are playing, but also teams from Holy Cross, which also uses the field as its home. The supposed nuisance of noise and disappearance of trees drew more than a dozen residents to the meeting.

"It's Wallace Woods, not Wallace Chain-Link Fence," Horsley said. 

"I think it's great we put kids in uniform," said Sterrett Street resident Jack Schick, whose two kids attended Covington schools, "but the speakers, especially during soccer games, are too loud."

One resident of the neighborhood showed support for the project, though.

"We did agree that it was perfectly OK for the trees to be taken down," said Liz Fossett, who lives with her husband in a home they purchased next to the football field. She was the valedictorian of the 2004 Holmes High School class of graduates. As for the noise, "We moved there knowing there was a football field there, so it wasn't a surprise to us."

Jay Fossett, a 1977 Holmes graduate and secretary of the TEAM Foundation (and uncle to Liz Fossett), said that the organization expects to have another $250,000 from a grant that it is optimistic will come through. 

Board member Julie Geisen Scheper said that the district would work with residents to ease any concerns. "This sounds like an issue that is workable," she said, "and we can have some dialogue."

The board and the neighborhood association agreed to have some meetings in the near future.

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher