MARIETTA - Williamstown and Parkersburg High Schools have faced unexpected closures of their football stadium bleachers this year, a situation some Washington County schools have faced in years past and one could in the near future.
"We're probably playing on borrowed time," Belpre High School athletic director Ken Cox said.
The bleachers at PHS' Stadium Field were shut down this month after a visual inspection revealed deterioration of the 90-year-old cement structures. How to address the problem is expected to be the main topic of conversation at tonight's Wood County Board of Education meeting.
In March, a cursory inspection of Williamstown High School's 40-year-old home bleachers raised concerns and led to their closure. Wood County Schools paid a large portion of the nearly $100,000 project to have the stands brought up to code in time for the start of the 2012 football season, said Sue Woodward, assistant superintendent of school services for Wood County.
Belpre High School's Ralph Holder Stadium might be the next to need new bleachers. The visitors seats were removed two years ago, and the district spends $2,000 to $4,000 a year replacing as many as 80 to 100 boards on the home side.
"We are constantly repairing, replacing boards and trying to maintain them as best we can," Cox said. "Right now we're one step ahead."
The more-than-40-year-old bleachers are inspected annually to make sure they're safe, Cox said, but eventually, it will make more sense economically to tear them down and replace them with a smaller set.
"But you'd still be looking at six figures," he said. "The question becomes, where does that money come from? And I don't have that answer."
Other area districts had to replace their aging bleachers years ago.
Fort Frye Local Schools used its first payment-in-lieu-of-taxes from Duke Energy in 2003 for an approximately $400,000 renovation of Cadet Field that included new bleachers. Current Fort Frye board of education Vice President Kevin Worthington said the bleachers had been condemned then but are now in good shape.
"We don't have any concerns about that," he said.
Warren High School Principal Dan Leffingwell said new seats were constructed at Warrior Field more than a decade ago and the stadium is currently in compliance. He empathizes with PHS and Williamstown officials over there recent troubles.
"It's a tough spot to find yourself in. Unfortunately, everything needs replaced (eventually). Nothing lasts forever," Leffingwell said.
Wolf Creek Local Schools was able to be somewhat proactive when it had aluminum grandstand seats and a press box installed at its stadium for just less than $200,000 in 2006, said Doug Baldwin, Waterford Elementary School principal and former athletic director. That served as the initial step for an upgrade of all the district's athletic facilities, including installing a track at the field and the field house project now being completed.
Wooden features at Frontier High School's Cougar Field were replaced with aluminum and safety features were added about nine or 10 years ago, Frontier Local Superintendent Bruce Kidder said. The bleachers are inspected annually and the home side was power washed and half of it painted prior to the 2012 season after some rust was detected, he said.
"They're holding up real well," Kidder said.
Emergency lighting was also installed on the home bleachers during the recent season and will be added to the visitors side in the future.
Marietta High School plays its home football games at Don Drumm Stadium, which has been owned by Marietta College for the last decade. The college recently completed a $3.6 million renovation of the stadium. Under the current agreement which is expiring soon, the city school district does not have to pay to use the field, so it has not faced the football stadium expenses other districts have in recent years.
"We're very lucky to have that association with Marietta College," MHS athletic director Rick Guimond said.