Key West High School’s new $15 million football stadium shouldn’t be built at the expense of its adjacent baseball complex, school board member Mindy Conn said April 12 as the board considered and approved finally a concept master plan for the new Tommy Roberts. Memorial Stadium on Kennedy Drive. Conn was the only dissenting vote.
Pat Lefere, director of operations and planning for the school district, presented the concept plan for the new football stadium, which backs onto the baseball team’s Rex Weech Field.
Long in need of replacement and with bleachers deemed unsafe to use, the new football stadium will feature new bleachers, with a concession stand and toilets below, and a new press room. Plans also include new changing rooms and a possible bunk room for visiting teams to spend the night. A new grass field will replace the current grass, Lefere said, noting that the concept plan “is still in its early stages and can be adjusted.”
In response to questions from Conn, Lefere acknowledged that the positioning of the new football bleachers will shorten the baseball outfield by 20 to 40 feet. The center field fence is currently 360 feet from home plate, while the new plans would move the fence to 342 feet. The outfield fences in the left and right fields are currently 406 and 409 feet from home plate, and under the new plan, they would be shortened to a maximum distance of 390 feet, Lefere said.
“My concern is that we already have kids hitting beyond 400 feet,” Conn said. “A shorter field messes up everyone’s numbers. Right now the center field fence is at 360 feet and our outfielders are already running into that fence.
School board president John Dick shared Conn’s concerns about a shorter outfield.
“Do everything you can not to shorten these fields,” Dick told Lefere. “If you can somehow get what we have now, do it.”
Lefere said the new football bleachers need to be placed farther from the road and closer to the baseball field “due to city setback requirements.”
“Well, did you ask the city for a waiver to change that?” Conn asked. The answer was no. “We can certainly ask,” Lefere told him.
Requests for waivers or exceptions to city building rules are common in Key West, where property owners routinely request fewer parking spaces than needed, or shorter setbacks from a property line to make more room for a deck, pool or addition. .
These requests begin with the city’s planning department, which makes a recommendation to the planning board. In the event of refusal by the town planning council, the applicant can, and often does, file an appeal which is decided by the municipal commission.
“So that would become a political issue, wouldn’t it?” asked board member Andy Griffiths, meaning city officials, some of whom are seeking re-election, should support or oppose a waiver request that would help the local baseball team.
“Yes, a negative response from the city’s planning board would make this a political issue for the city commission,” school board attorney Dirk Smits replied.
Lefere again promised to request a waiver of the setback requirement for the new bleachers.
Conn also pointed out that the concept plan presented on April 12 did not include some features the baseball team currently has, such as a double bullpen that allows two pitchers to warm up at once. Lefere assured him that such things could be included in the design phase, but not before the board had approved the concept plan.
“It looks like we need a new design that takes into account more than just football seating,” Conn said. “It’s because the new football bleachers can’t be any further back. I don’t want to see us take anything away from baseball. In my opinion, baseball isn’t getting what it needs.