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GHS upgrades right on track

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The Tide will open the new school year with a new track and lighting, along with other improvements.

By Craig Worrell, Sports Editor

In 2011, Galax High School fielded the best football team in the school’s long history. In 2012, the school will have facilities that will match that success.

As part of a five-year capital improvement plan, Galax is nearing completion of a $400,000 renovation of the football stadium and track, a project that school superintendent Bill Sturgill expects to be completed before the first home varsity football game Aug. 24.

Improvements include replacing the track, new stadium lights, a new drainage system, play clocks behind each end zone, electricity sources on the field, a water source behind one end zone and a new above-ground irrigation system, all of which will constitute the first major improvements since a new press box and visitor’s bleachers were installed in 2004.

But the most visible improvement also turned out to be the most necessary. Roughly three-fourths of the cost will go toward removing and replacing the 25-year-old track around the field. Though school officials knew the track needed an upgrade – the asphalt surface was deteriorating, and it was a few feet short of 400 meters to begin with – they didn’t realize how much that upgrade was needed until DCI/Shires Construction of Bluefield began work.

Existing drainage pipes 10 feet under the corner of the track nearest the concession stand had failed and over time eroded the soil to form a cavity measuring roughly 12 feet by 6 feet. The hole was discovered after the asphalt surface had been removed and a construction truck collapsed the cavity.

For a school that traditionally parades its homecoming court around the track in automobiles, discovery of the erosion hole could have been much more dramatic.

There were several more ‘soft spots,’ some as large as one-third the length of the field, that didn’t meet compression standards and were unforeseen when the project began. E.J. Rector Grading of Galax jumped on that problem on short notice.

“That was something that we had to get done quickly because we didn’t know it existed,” Sturgill said. “They came in immediately and they were fabulous.”

Construction workers were busy grading, leveling, watering and compacting the subsurface of the track late last week. Sturgill said he expected paving to begin this week, after which a rubberized top surface will be applied.

“Removing and replacing the track was in our five-year capital improvement plan,” Sturgill said. “It definitely needed it. It’s a good upgrade to this whole facility, the track and the lights and the water, just getting it all in one sweep.”

The French drain system will alleviate the problem of standing water along both sidelines, and a new irrigation system will keep the playing surface in top shape. A mechanized irrigation vehicle will be placed at the end zone nearest the scoreboard, trailing a water hose the length of the field. It will automatically work its way back toward the water source in the concession stand end of the field, reeling in the water line as it goes.

Another major improvement will be to the lighting system.

“We had a lighting test done back in the fall,” said GHS assistant principal Justin Iroler. “I’m not sure what units they use to measure it, but for a game on TV they need to have 50 [units]. Standard is around 20 to 30, and we averaged around nine.”

E&L Diamond of Galax was subcontracted by DCI/Shires to handle that job, and the final lights were installed Thursday. Existing light towers were used, and ballasts were moved to the base of the towers, freeing up weight to add more light fixtures on each tower.

It is important to note that the school system did not need to seek funding for the project. Funding came from the schools’ existing capital improvement account, money that can be used only for physical improvements, not for hiring new teachers or purchasing instruction materials.

“At the end of a school year, if there is a budget surplus where we’ve managed our budget as efficiently as possible, that carry-over money goes into our capital account,” Sturgill explained.

When such a large project is deemed necessary, instead of the school system having to go to the city and ask for money, it simply shares with the city its plans and asks for the city’s approval.

“Someone might ask where that money comes from,” Sturgill continued. “It comes from responsible management of our budget, and the city allowing that money to be carried over into our capital improvement fund.”