No doubt only few Wood County residents had any idea about the spiraling costs of the Stadium Field home side bleacher construction project until the Jan. 13 meeting of the Board of Education.
The first inkling trouble was afoot with the costs and payments to the contract came during a grilling of Stadium Field Committee President Earl Johnson following a lengthy executive session.
Since then, the situation hasn’t become much clearer, except that lawyers are involved and veiled hints of lawsuits.
One thing is certain, that $665,000 is owed to project contractor Grae-Con for work already done and $50,000 more is needed to complete the project.
One thing uncertain is who will ultimately be responsible for paying this bill.
The board is holding a special meeting on Thursday to discuss the stadium finances.
At the Jan. 13 meeting, board members went to great lengths to point out the board’s responsibility ended with the $700,000 given for the project last year.
That’s nonsense. The stadium is the property of the board and therefore it is ultimately responsible for what’s done there.
This situation has plenty of blame to go around. Certainly, the stadium committee should own some. According to Ryan Taylor, president of Pickering Associates and project manager for the work, items that were removed from the project because of cost concerns were often ordered done by members of the committee.
In addition, the committee obtained a $600,000 line of credit for the project, but has only used $200,000, opting to keep the rest for work on the visitors’ side and to keep the loan down. Most people were under the impression this amount would be used for this portion of the project.
However, most of the blame belongs to the five members of the Wood County Board of Education. Board members wanted to be seen as a white knight riding in to save the day at Stadium Field. A noble gesture, and to be fair, probably supported by many, if not the majority, of Wood County residents, especially after giving $200,000 for track improvements to the Erickson All-Sports Facility in an attempt to tamp down opposition from that quarter.
But the bottom line is that the board unwisely gave away $700,000 of taxpayer money and then abdicated any further responsibility. At Monday’s special meeting of the Stadium Field Committee, Johnson said at the beginning of the project, his organization invited boardmembers to attend the group’s meetings during the project, but none have ever attended.
This indifference has already cost taxpayers $700,000 and could cost taxpayers almost that much again.
Now that things are blowing up in the boardmembers’ faces – and in an election year with three seats on the ballot – they are trying to backpedal as fast as they can.