Taylor: Stadium costs rise due to limited time, added items

PARKERSBURG – The engineer heading up the Parkersburg High School Stadium Field project said costs increased in the final months due to a shortage of time and previously removed items being placed back in to the project.

On Friday, Ryan Taylor, president of Pickering Associates and lead engineer on the project, said in the rush to get the stadium open for the first PHS football game, items which were cut from the project due to costs were placed back in by members of the Parkersburg High School Stadium Committee.

Taylor also said work which originally was slated to be done by volunteers was instead completed by the contractor due to a shortage of time, which again increased the final cost.

“In the beginning it was supposed to be a bare-bones job. It didn’t become a bare-bones job,” he said. “In the end they got a very nice stadium, and at the end of the day I think that was the right choice.”

Critics have said the project cost swelled from $1.3 million to more than $2 million in a matter of months. Taylor said the original $1.3 million estimate was changed to $1.6 million when the project began and officials were told costs were increasing as the project progressed.

At a school board meeting in February 2013, Taylor gave the board three possible courses of action along with cost estimates for each one. Taylor warned the board the option of repairing the bleachers would require more “vetting” before the final cost could be known. At the time, Taylor had estimated a cost of $1.3 million, but by April the number was more than $1.5 million as contracts began to be awarded.

Taylor said in the final weeks of the project, as everyone was racing to get the bleachers up to code and opened for the football team’s Sept. 20, 2013, game, items which had been removed or set aside as part of cost-saving measures were rapidly placed back into the plan. Those items included creation of an actual wall instead of a chain link fence and adding back in a top row of bleachers which had been eliminated from the plan.

Three planned volunteer days were canceled, and those items were given to the contractor to finish.

“There was a big chunk that we decided to do at the last minute,” Taylor said. “If someone had said we are over budget and we won’t have it open this year, you would have gotten a lot of that money back. But it was decided it was more important to get those kids out there playing, which I agree with.”

Earl Johnson, president of the stadium committee, declined to comment Friday.

Superintendent Pat Law said the school board has called a special meeting for Thursday to help address some of the issues surrounding the project and to bring the various groups together. Law declined to comment on any specific questions surrounding the stadium project.

“We’re going to try to provide all of the information anyone has asked for and any information we have about the process,” he said. “We’re trying to resolve whatever questions and issues anyone may have.”

However, Law clarified a proposed audit of the project is not intended to address finances, but rather the process itself.

“It is not an audit of the books here at the office,” he said. “It is an audit of the construction project.”

Law said the central office has already begun to look for possible entities to handle the construction audit.

Board President Tim Yeater said he hopes by bringing everyone to the table at the same time, the board can head off some of the misinformation and find common ground with everyone involve.

“We may have to agree to disagree,” he said. “My goal here is to get everyone back on track together.”

Yeater and others have said a major issue is a more than $665,000 bill which has yet to be paid to Grae-Con Construction for work completed on the stadium. All of the groups which have commented on the project have said Grae-Con has done a good job on the project and deserves to be paid.

The question becomes by whom and with what funds.

“At this point, the board has spent the $700,000 we put toward the project,” Yeater said. “We have no more money for this.”