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Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017 12:07 am

No green for turf project

Booster club owes six figures



The Springfield High School Booster Club owes more than $300,000 for artificial turf that’s already been installed, according to the club’s financial statements and documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

The note, held by Bank of Springfield came due on Sept. 1, according to Todd Knox, booster club president. The financial crunch came after pledges fell through, Knox says.

“Essentially, the boosters find ourselves in a financial situation due to circumstances beyond our control,” Knox said. “We are formulating a plan and talking to our supporters about how we can address that situation.”

Pursuant to club bylaws and federal regulations governing nonprofit organizations, the club provided Illinois Times with IRS filings and financial statements. The club, however, refused to give the newspaper a copy of the turf loan agreement with Bank of Springfield. The club also declined to provide a list of donors for the turf project. Knox wouldn’t say who hasn’t come through with promised money.

“The booster club really exists to support kids, and I don’t want to get into a situation of pointing fingers,” Knox said.

The booster club four years ago vowed to pay for the turf project at Springfield High School, promising that it wouldn’t cost taxpayers a nickel. The turf on a field used by physical education classes, the school’s marching band and the football team was installed and ready for use in 2014.

The school board last month rejected a proposal to give the club $25,000 to help pay for the project. But the club owes considerably more than that.

The club borrowed $460,000 in the tax year that ended on June 30, 2014, and has been paying more than $16,600 in annual payments, according to documents filed with the IRS. The most recent IRS filings show that the club owed $331,263 as of June 30, 2016. The club’s most recent financial statement shows that the club, as of Aug. 31, had a zero balance in a Bank of Springfield account earmarked for the turf project. The same financial statement shows that more than $314,000 is owed for the project and that $307,100 in pledges haven’t been collected.

Knox declined to say what collateral, if any, was provided to obtain the loan from Bank of Springfield. He also declined to characterize how the club and the bank are handling the past-due loan.

“I’d rather not answer that,” Knox said.

Could the turf be pulled up and repossessed?

“I think that’s very unlikely,” Knox said.

Turf project aside, the booster club appears in good financial health, judging by club financial statements and IRS filings. During the tax year that ended in June 2016, the booster club reported more than $134,000 in revenue and giving more than $104,000 to support various sports and activities at the high school. The club ended the year with a fund balance of more than $43,000, according to IRS records. In addition to helping pay for sports, the booster club gives money to help pay for school plays, language clubs and other extracurricular activities, Knox said.

Knox didn’t directly answer when asked whether the club might cut back support for extracurricular activities to pay off the turf loan.

“Again, we raise money to support the kids and their activities at Springfield High School,” Knox said. “To take money away from them would not be part of our general mission.”

After declining to give the booster club $25,000 to help pay for the turf project, the school board last month formed a committee to oversee booster clubs in the district’s three high schools. Although the club’s financial statements and IRS filings must be made public, school board president Adam Lopez said that he didn’t know how much the booster club owed for the turf project.

“I don’t even know who the donors are,” Lopez said. “Everybody else has the list but me.”

Springfield School District Superintendent Jennifer Gill said that the booster club has been keeping the district informed about finances for the turf project, which began before she became superintendent. While the turf has been an asset for the high school, Gill said that relying on money that hasn’t yet materialized may not be a good idea for such an endeavor.

“It’s always better, whenever possible, to have the money in the bank before you purchase something,” Gill said. At the same time, however, Gill said that the field is more usable than a natural grass field, particularly when the weather is wet. Last year, she said, rainy weather would have prevented physical education classes from using a natural grass field on 50 occasions. The turf field, she said, can be used almost immediately after rainstorms.

“I can’t tell you how much that turf has benefited students at Springfield High,” Gill said.

Both Lopez and Knox say they’re optimistic.

“I think Springfield High will solve this issue,” Lopez said. “I don’t know how. … They’ll get it taken care of.”

Knox also sees bright days ahead.

“I’m very optimistic,” Knox said. “It’s a hole we didn’t ask for. Unfortunately, we’re going to deal with it. We’re going to move forward.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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