Saturday, June 12, 2004

Kings losing hall facilities

Only Galbreath Field to stay

By Michael D. Clark
The Cincinnati Enquirer

DEERFIELD TWP. - Kings Schools will take another financial hit because the former home of the College Football Hall of Fame nearby is being razed, leaving the school system with a loaned football field this fall and little else.

The former College Football Hall of Fame near Paramount's Kings Island in Deerfield Township has been closed since 1992. The museum building will be razed and the property sold to make way for commercial development.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
The Warren County school system lost its football stadium last August when lead was discovered in the Kings High School campus soil and school officials are now studying how to pay the estimated $3 million for a new football, track and soccer stadium.

But officials from Cincinnati-based Great American Insurance Co. came to the rescue last year, allowing Kings to hold its football games, and boys and girls' soccer matches, at abandoned Galbreath Field, which is part of the hall of fame complex and adjacent to the Kings school campus in Deerfield Township.

By mid-July, however, the hall will be leveled - and along with it Galbreath Field's team locker rooms and fans' restrooms housed in the former hall of fame building. After the prep football season, the insurance company hopes to sell the hall's 33.5-acre campus, which includes Galbreath Field, for about $18 million.

While Kings officials are grateful to the company for again lending the football field, the demolition has them scrambling to replace locker room and restroom facilities for crowds that sometimes reach 7,000 on the Friday nights when Kings plays at home beginning in late August.

"It's just another hill we have to climb in dealing with this whole situation," said Kings Athletic Director Matthew Koenig in reference to the loss of the high school football stadium, two baseball fields and practice fields off Columbia Road from toxic debris left by a private gun club's shooting range decades before the schools were built. "It's going to be challenging."

The Kings district is also facing budget deficits that have forced $2 million in personnel and program cuts during the next two school years. Moreover, school officials are considering a series of tax issues - beginning with the November ballot - seeking more taxpayer money to operate the district and expand building capacity for its booming student enrollment.

Koenig praised Great American Insurance officials for being "very generous" in providing a venue for two consecutive fall seasons for Kings sports teams. But he doesn't yet know how to replace the locker rooms for Kings and visiting teams, and bathroom facilities for thousands of fans, nor at what cost. He worried that, whatever the expense, it will cut into the football-related revenue generated by Kings' large crowds, which pays for about one third of the district's total annual athletic budget of $125,000.

The three-story College Football Hall of Fame building, which opened in 1978 and sits near Paramount's Kings Island, was once the national shrine for college football. But dwindling attendance forced its closing in 1992 and in 1995 the hall's owner - the National Football Foundation - reopened the hall in South Bend, Ind., where it operates today.

Anne Watson, vice president of investor relations for American Financial Group, which owns the insurance company, said the company has tried for years to find a commercial developer to buy the abandoned hall of fame.

Interest from commercial developers was hindered, Watson said, because "it's very much a special purpose building" and was designed solely as an exhibition building.



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