We doubt Tuesday's lightning-quick action by the Wood County Board of Education to give the Parkersburg High School Stadium Committee $700,000 to help with a portion of the repairs to Stadium Field surprised many people. The stadium has been shut down since November after an inspection deemed it unsafe.
The price-tag for a complete, long-term fix for the 90-year-old stadium will be nearly $3 million. The stadium committee has opted to fix one side at a time and originally asked the board for $900,000, with the promise to kick in $200,000 of its own money through donations, loans and fundraising. This money would provide a long-term fix for the home-side bleachers and be finished by the start of the 2013 football season.
The visitor side problem would be left for later.
The need for the money was real. Currently the stadium is unusable and without the board's contribution would continue to be for the foreseeable future. And, frankly, the $1.3 million needed to do just one-half of the job is probably more than any stadium committee could have raised on its own. The state was not an option because, as BOE member Lawrence Hasbargen noted Tuesday, money for stadium upkeep and maintenance is left to the localities.
What is troubling about the board's decision is why an athletic issue was fast-tracked and took only two board meetings to resolve while so many other pressing repairs to schools have been discussed, but then forgotten. Wood County Schools Financial Director Connie Robers said the schools require $16 million for repairs - and this is for roof work alone. According to Assistant Superintendent Sue Woodward, in addition to roof repairs, an unfinished sprinkler system and a new gym floor are needed at Criss Elementary School, there are foundation issues (due to erosion) at Edison Middle School and there is the pressing need for a new elementary school in Williamstown. Woodward has described the current Williamstown Elementary as "adequate, but barely."
Other than these two school employees, there were few voices speaking for these other needs during the discussion about Stadium Field. And the biggest voice missing was Wood County Schools Superintendent Pat Law. Law has earned a deserved reputation as an advocate for children, but he seems to have surrendered his role as the school system's chief executive officer.
Unfortunately, Law's abdication of his responsibility in this important matter gave the Wood County Board of Education members all the latitude they needed to do what they obviously intended to do from the start. In this important and divisive matter, Law should have been the guiding voice, not the school board or members of the stadium committee.
Funding only PHS brought another longtime simmering issue to the surface - the opinion many on the southside already hold that the school system looks upon them as second-class citizens.
We cannot argue with the board's decision to grant the PHS stadium committee's request for funding. But there are other pressing maintenance issues within the school system that also need attention. Remember, it is the Wood County Board of Education, not the Wood County Board of Athletics.