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Budget approval would help Laney athletics

Laney principal Al O'Briant said a renovation to the school's fieldhouse could be completed by the 2013-14 school year. (Photo by File photo by Mike Spencer)

Laney High School moved one step closer to a renovated athletics field house on Tuesday night.

The New Hanover County Board of Education approved a draft of its budget on Tuesday, including $860,064 for Laney's facility for football, wrestling and both soccer programs. The project calls for a complete renovation of the existing building, including new locker rooms, showers and support spaces.

"They don't have any athletic support spaces," said Eddie Anderson, facilities planning director for the school district. "We're not only trying to upgrade the existing buildings but bring their athletic facilities up to the level of the other high schools."

Anderson said the field house's current HV/AC units (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), lighting and infrastructure – even the finishes inside the building – were causes for concern.

"Programmatically, it's inadequate," he said.

Laney's facilities needs are no secret. For the past four years, the school has asked for substantial renovations via capital outlay requests – including the field house. Laney has asked for rubber flooring and a dehumidifier in the weight room, as well as a new locker room for student-athletes. None of those requests received county funding.

But this time around, instead of requesting the facility improvements piecemeal, as in the past, Laney officials met with the central office to come up with a larger renovation plan for the 2012-2013 budget.

"We were able to have some dialogue with our folks from the facilities planning department," Laney principal Al O'Briant said. "This is absolutely a collaborative effort."

The school system budget has been approved by the Board of Education and now goes to the County Commissioners. The budget's final approval will come in June or July. If approved, design and planning for the renovations will begin immediately and the field house would be complete for the 2013-14 school year.

"We've very hopeful and we're excited about the possibility for our kids," O'Briant said. "We want to get this thing through."

This isn't the first time the school system has faced facilities issues. In 2009, a StarNews investigation revealed dangerous conditions at the New Hanover High School football field house, and the building was subsequently condemned. Between 2008 and 2010, the school system also faced a Title IX compliance review by the Office for Civil Rights, which found glaring inconsistencies with the school system's facilities for male and female athletes.

"I think there was always awareness even prior to the situation with New Hanover," Anderson said. "I think what brings the facilities needs at Laney – and all the schools – to the forefront is the facilities assessments."

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