Wood BOE asked to pay $444K on Stadium Field project

PARKERSBURG – The Parkersburg High School Stadium Renovation Committee is asking the Wood County Board of Education to pay all remaining bills on work completed at Stadium Field.

The project to renovate Stadium Field’s home-side bleachers was mostly completed in September of last year, but officials said the cost swelled in the final weeks from $1.55 million to more than $2 million. More than half a million dollars has yet to be paid on some of the work, and about $50,000 in work remains to be completed.

The board, committee member and members of the public gathered in a special meeting Thursday to discuss the issues. Committee members said the project is about $34,000 short, but the committee is unable to draw the remaining $400,000 of a promised $600,000 loan.

Committee members said they were informed by bank officials this week the remaining money would not be released for fear the committee could not produce enough money to pay back the loan. The committee already has spent $200,000 of the loan.

The committee instead offered to release $231,400 to the school board, all but $10,000 of the money it currently holds, and asked the board to put forth an additional $444,000 to pay all remaining invoices.

Committee member Greg Bolton said that money would cover both the $665,000 owed to Grae-Con Construction for work completed and about $10,000 owed to architectural and engineering firm Pickering Associates.

The committee also promised to continue to fundraise to pay off its outstanding $200,000 loan. The $10,000 held by the committee would be used as a buffer fund to help service that loan.

Some at the meeting argued over how the cost of the project quickly increased from $1.55 million to more than $2 million. Ryan Taylor, president of Pickering Associates and project manager for the stadium project, said the rushed timeline combined with items added to the project to enhance the stadium caused the increase.

“Did we deviate from what we planned to do in the beginning?” asked board member Lawrence Hasbargen.

“There were decisions all along the way, and those decisions were made by the group that was directing me,” Taylor said. “We had the opportunity to save money and we took those when we could and at other times we purchased things to enhance the stadium. The idea was to bring the stadium back to the way it was before.”

Ultimately those changes led to a $300,000 increase in the cost of construction, he said.

During the meeting, board member John Marlow repeatedly asked Taylor who authorized some of the changes that upped the cost of the project. Taylor said though the school board is Pickering Associates’ employer, he took direction from district officials and committee members who participated in the design process.

“I do not have anything in writing from the board to say ‘do those things,'” Taylor said.

“I don’t believe any of us sitting at any of these meetings authorized you to do any of these” extra enhancements, Marlow said.

Board President Tim Yeater said he believed Taylor acted on the guidance of those participating in the project and made the details and costs clear.

Taylor “gave everyone the opportunity to say no,” Yeater said. “He was never told no.”

Yeater diffused further discussion over who authorized what, saying the board needed to look at solutions to the current situation rather than searching for someone to blame.

Board member repeatedly came back to the loan they say committee members promised at the beginning of the project.

Board member Jim Fox said the board’s agreement last year to put $700,000 toward the project was based on the committee’s promise to secure a $600,000 loan. Fox said he hoped the committee could still convince the banks to release the remaining money.

“We’d like the stadium committee to have access to that loan that they originally said they had and that we believed they had,” Fox said. “When we appropriate funds from the Wood County Board of Education it comes from all the taxpayers in the county. We will make any resources available to (the stadium committee and banks) to secure the balance of the loan.”

Committee treasurer Charlotte Potter said if the committee drew the full $600,000 loan, the interest alone would cost $24,000 a year, which would take all of the income the committee receives from stadium signage. The group would then have to rely solely on fundraising to pay back the loan principal.

Board members grilled Doug Swearingen, senior vice president of First Neighborhood Bank, concerning the remaining $400,000. Swearingen said the loan was signed off on by eight area banks, including his, and repeatedly told board members he could not answer questions about the loan without the other banks.

Yeater asked for Swearingen to work with Prosecutor Jason Wharton and Superintendent Pat Law to bring the board more information about the loan and why the banks stopped the committee’s access to the remaining $400,000.

Attorney Pat McFarland, who represents a group of area businessmen who donated to the stadium renovation project, protested, saying the board was being unfair in demanding information from the banks concerning the loan.

“It’s not fair what you are doing,” he said. “Is there any question that the board is financially responsible for the debt?”

“We’re done with that tonight,” Yeater said, adjourning the meeting shortly after.

Yeater said the board will take up the stadium issues again at its Jan. 28 meeting.