At the Lake: Track groundbreaking |

At the Lake: Track groundbreaking

Provided by the Tahoe Daily Tribune

With the ground already broken, the construction is under way. And the ceremony to commemorate the track renovation had the charisma and spirit of a pep rally for a world-class 100-meter dash.

Forced inside the multi-purpose room at South Tahoe Middle School because of rain and snow, Wednesday’s groundbreaking ceremony finished with gleaming silver shovels dipping into a mound of dirt piled on a blue tarp inside the capacious building.

A battalion of middle schoolers, some from neighboring St. Theresa Catholic School, clapped and giggled during the ceremony. Officials from the school district, city and county sat in metal folding chairs on the stage next to crucial financial donors and physical education teachers.

Lake Tahoe Unified School District Superintendent Jim Tarwater, who doubled as the emcee of the event, tried to keep the ceremony short with an itinerary that called for crisp speeches.

But when people begin speaking of how a dream becomes a reality, and thanks to those who made it possible, speeches have a tendency to become a bit longer.

The renovation will come in two phases. The first calls for a synthetic turf capable of serving as a football and soccer field inside the nine-lane polyurethane track.

Students of all ages and community members of all stripes will be able to use it.

The second will implement features such as bleachers, a concession stand, restrooms and other amenities. Donations are still being accepted.

The project represents a few things. It’s the first collaboration between the school district, city of South Lake Tahoe and El Dorado County. Next on the list could be a shared government complex housing offices of all three. Down the line could be a community theater.

Secondly, the track renovation would likely be cited during the district’s expected bid for a facility bond next year.

It could also be a revenue generator as visions of hosting soccer tournaments and track meets have been voiced.

Seventh-graders on the playground, adjacent from the construction and separated by fencing, were excited.

“I think it’s cool because we’re going to get some cool events,” said Jason Reum.

“I can’t wait to do track next year,” Alexis Smith said.

Fellow seventh-grader Michael Lowe was glad the dilapidated track, used at Echo Summit to help Olympic athletes train for conditions at Mexico City, would be destroyed and replaced.

“It made it hard to run,” Lowe said.

With grading season under way since Tuesday, South Shore contractors and state economists are eagerly awaiting an upward turn to the construction industry.

In comparison to previous years, the number of city building permits issued appears to be lagging this year leading into the grading season, with 262 issued as of May 2.

The number of basin-wide applications received by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency show only a slight dip. Nonetheless, the jury may still be out on how the summer will shape up.

Still, the phone activity hasn’t been stellar so far for contractors, who are dealing with stricter fire codes, rising fuel prices, increasing costs of building materials and a skittish real estate market.

“Everything adds up. A whole number of circumstances make construction go up and down. And I do believe the market has slowed down,” South Shore contractor David Cattaneo said. With more than 25 years logged in the industry, Cattaneo is occupied now with emergency-related jobs such as pipe repairs.

Contractor Ray Fernsten is mostly working on remodels as the new home starts have diminished somewhat.

“The numbers haven’t been what they’ve been before because the spec builders aren’t building (as much),” he said. He cited a weakening real estate market ” or at least the perception of one ” as scaring them off.

Wendy Woods of Yonker Construction has also noticed a drop-off in jobs from home starts.

The rising costs of building materials hasn’t helped the industry.

The longtime construction company estimated the cost per square foot of building the average home has tripled in the last decade to about $300. Contractors are having to pass on material expenses and other labor costs associated with workers compensation insurance.

“If you want to be a legitimate contractor, it isn’t cheap. It’s hard when you could get a guy working out of his truck with a cell phone who you’ll never see again,” Woods said.

Tahoe Sand and Gravel has been forced to raise its prices by between 4 to 6 percent because the price of fuel that runs the excavation equipment.

Adding to the rising costs, Lowe’s is now charging contractors $50 for deliveries. It used to be a $5 fee.

At Meeks, contractor sales manager Buzz Bera said the price of lumber has stabilized ” but the price of cement, petroleum and copper has gone up. Thieves are even stealing copper by pulling it out of the telecommunications lines. And steel has skyrocketed by at least 10 percent.

The perceived slump comes as no surprise to the California Building Industry Association’s chief economist, Alan Nevin.

“The Bay Area slowed down dramatically. There’s no question if you look at the permits,” Nevin said, citing the building boom in Beijing and Dubai as absorbing the supply of steel and concrete.

He added the slumping real estate market as a reason “banks are petrified to do spec loans.”

Tom Turner, who owns the Riva Grill, estimated building the restaurant today would cost him three times as much from the $5,000 expense incurred a few decades ago.

We’ll have a bit of a break today from the cold, wet weather with mostly cloudy skies and only isolated snow showers expected “still chilly with highs only in the lower to mid 40s along with breezy conditions.

By tonight, snow will begin to break out once again, with a few inches possible. Lows will be back down in the upper 20s to near 30. Right now the weekend looks nicer with sunshine and warmer weather. Something to look forward to.