PARKERSBURG - As the county's tax base and school enrollment shrinks and the upkeep, maintenance and needs for facilities grows, Wood County Board of Education officials said closer scrutiny should be given to wants and needs of the school system - including athletic facilities.
On Feb. 26, board members voted 4-0 to pull $700,000 from the $2.8 million contingency fund for repairs to the condemned bleachers at Parkersburg High's Stadium Field. The funds are paired with assistance from the Stadium Committee, which is seeking a $400,000 loan.
Board members glossed over the multimillion dollar needs of academic school facilities - for roof repairs, a new elementary school, foundation work and a host of other issues. They also ignored a funding request from Erickson All-Sports Facility officials seeking money for track resurfacing and bleachers.
Board President Tim Yeater said the decision to fix the condemned stadium was a business decision.
"Half a stadium for $700,000 is a good investment," he said. "We are investing in students."
Board member Jim Fox noted the board approved funds to reopen the only condemned facility in the county.
Yeater said board members realize the athletic facilities are part of the community, but they need to look at the cost of renovations and maintenance of those facilities. Board members have asked to form a committee to review the county's athletic facilities and get a handle on the scope of repairs and renovations needed. In addition to South and PHS, work has also been done at Williamstown High where the bleachers were condemned last year.
There's no question millions could be spent on the county athletic facilities.
"Can we support three high schools with state-of-the-art (athletic) facilities, concession stands, all-weather tracks? We have a larger responsibility to the community to see how much we are spending on athletics," Yeater said.
Finance Director Connie Roberts said the athletic facilities are a tremendous value to all the children of Wood County.
Sue Woodward, assistant superintendent, said maintenance crews make thousands of trips to those stadiums for repairs and maintenance.
"Not a week goes by county maintenance isn't at one of the three fixing something, repairing something. It's like upkeep on your house; the daily duties are done."
"The board of education throughout has done an excellent job to maintain the facilities these people have graciously provided," Roberts added.
She said board members through the years have been prudent in considering things volunteers provide the schools and whether or not it should be accepted.
"If they are going to raise funds and put in a nice scoreboard, are you going to say no because you can't replace the computer board 10 years down the road?"
"We are going to take a step back to see where we are and how much we are spending on maintaining facilities," Yeater said. "If our system is bigger than we can pay for, we may need to look at downsizing."
"We are at a place again where it is important to look at the present and the future," Woodward said.
Yeater said board members may want a bond issue, taking the matter to the community to gauge interest in spending on athletic facilities.
The school's athletic facilities have a $1 surcharge on ticket sales with half going to capital improvements and the other half going to the school's respective stadium committees. Yeater said the school system has the flexibility to increase the surcharge. Other counties school system are going with pay-to-play options.
Wood County Schools also has room in its excess levy, which is at 80 percent. If the levy was increased to 100 percent it would generate an additional $4 million a year.
The board's levy (approved in 2008) runs through 2013-14. Woodward said the board of education will likely be coming to voters to again renew the levy, which has been in place since 1945.
"In that levy, the board will have to determine the purpose of the levy for the next five years."
Will voters favor a levy increase for the board of education to be used for athletic endeavors?
With a declining school enrollment and population, Yeater said officials need to take a hard look at facilities.
"We may have to prioritize our facilities. We may have to share some facilities in this county again, be it baseball field, track or soccer."