School district builds private partnership for sports fields

December 21, 2011 6:35:07 PM PST
A school district in San Jose is doing what some might call an impossible dream: They are hoping to build four state-of-the-art sports facilities without taxpayer dollars.

This project is ambitious and the first of its kind in the nation. By having a public and private partnership, communities are able to pool resources and sponsor projects without government funds.

In these hard economic times, most school districts wouldn't even think of building a sports field, let alone four.

"The resources that school districts have available typically are not focused in these areas," said Superintendent Jose Manzo.

The Alum Rock Union School District is working with San Francisco-based CivicSponsor to help raise $18 million to build sporting fields at four middle school campuses.

The school district will contribute nothing, but CivicSponsor -- a for-profit company -- will reach out to local corporations and individuals to invest in the projects, and they'll get a tax credit.

"You know that when you walk by that park and you see it, that's something you bought for your neighborhood," said CivicSponsor's CEO Russ Wallace. "We want to continue that with all the other projects that we source, so we look at things like parklets, urban space initiatives (and) new playgrounds."

CivicSponsor uses a group-buying platform. For example, $100 buys 6.5 square feet of a sports field project.

CivicSponsor seeks out corporations with pet initiatives.

"You look at athletic facilities for schools: It affects things like childhood obesity, which can affect performance and also health care," said Wallace, "so we're really approaching companies that are in technology and health care and sports."

Construction is already going on at a fifth middle school campus, but the funding is coming from bond money and from the city of San Jose -- taxpayer dollars, and that's what the Alum Rock Union School District wants to avoid. Future projects will be funded using the new platform.

"We're going to invest in them," Manzo said. "We are going to look for every opportunity to ensure that it doesn't matter that you live in the east side, you are going to receive the type of amenities that you get in other places."

The district says construction at one school will begin in June and it says they should have the money for the other three projects within a year.

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