PARKERSBURG - Two Wood County Board of Education members want the school system to take more financial responsibility for its high school stadiums.
Board member Tim Yeater asked Tuesday for the issue to become a discussion topic at a future board meeting, saying the school system needs to address how upkeep and expansion of the high school stadiums are funded.
Yeater said ticket sales for events are declining, as are donations from area businesses and individuals. Booster organizations and improvement committees rely on a percentage of ticket sales and fundraising to pay for improvements to athletic facilities. In recent years more groups have begun using the stadiums as the school system has added sports, such as soccer, and they are all competing for the same dollars.
Two Wood County Board of Education members want the school system to take more financial responsibility for its high school stadiums. The issue came to the forefront recently after Williamstown High School officials learned they were facing $125,000 or more in bleacher repairs at the school’s stadium. The bleachers are 40 years old. (Photo by Jeff Baughan)
"We're going to back these schools into a situation where they can't fund these issues," such as repairs and improvements, Yeater said. "It is a county issue."
Board member John Marlow backed the suggestion, saying he believed it was the school system's responsibility to cover those costs.
"We need to address our facilities, not only academic but athletic as well," he said.
Sue Woodward, assistant superintendent of school services, said Wood County Schools already spends thousands of dollars a year in repairs and maintenance for the three stadiums.
"The idea is they provide the new and the county maintains the old," she said. "We spend thousands doing maintenance and helping with improvements every year, even down to paying to fertilize the fields at Erickson and Williamstown. We do spend money on those facilities. It doesn't all come out of the boosters' pockets."
But for larger projects, those facilities are expected to primarily rely on donations and fundraising events, she said. Each school also has an improvement committee that oversees improvements at the stadiums. Woodward said the state School Building Authority, which sometimes funds improvements to school buildings, will not allocate funding for athletic facilities.
Wood County Schools has "never had a program that was a planned replacement," for stadiums or athletic facilities, she said. "There have been times before that the board has approved allocations for athletic facilities, but they are very cognizant that what you do for one you do for all."
The issue recently came to the forefront after engineers did a visual inspection of Williamstown High School's stadium bleachers and said significant repairs were needed.
Woodward said the bleachers were purchased in 1972, making them 40 years old. Other elements, such as a press box, were later added and were not part of the original design.
Engineers said there were visible signs of stress damage and age.
"They gave us estimates of what they felt, visually, would bring it back up to 75 percent occupancy," she said. "They are 40-year-old bleachers, they'll never be at 100 percent again."
Woodward said officials estimated the cost to repair the bleachers would be around $125,000. An alternate plan to scrap the old and build new bleachers would cost about four times as much.
"About half a million dollars," she said. "They said one of those two options should be pursued."
Woodward said officials stopped short of condemning the existing bleachers. Wood County Schools will have a second group come in to do more a thorough inspection.
"We're asking them to define a project scope with the intent of proving the safety of the existing bleachers," she said. The process will cost the school system about $8,000, which will be paid out of Wood County Schools' general fund.
Williamstown High Principal Pat Peters could not immediately be reached for comment.
The new costs come even as the school and its booster groups struggle to pay for a new athletic facility adjacent to the stadium. In January, school officials spent $78,000 to purchase a house next to the new training room to gain right of way for utilities and to level the house and build a parking lot. The money used had been allocated years ago by the school board after similar money was given to Erickson and Stadium Field.
If the school system became responsible financially for all work on school athletic facilities, Woodward said those projects would be placed on a needs list alongside of the district's 27 schools, but likely would rank lower in terms of need.
"You'd have to look at where does it fit into the educational process," she said. "Anything that gets a student involved in school is of value, but you'd have to measure it against all of the other projects.
"It will cause a lot of discussion among board members," Woodward said.