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INDEPENDENCE – Grayson County School Board members will decide whether to put any funds towards new bleachers at the aging football complex during next month’s regular meeting.
Division Superintendent Kevin Chalfant spoke about the need to make a decision on where the board planned to spend the roughly $206,000 in leftover grant funds from the school division’s recent athletic field and facilities renovations project.
“We only have one year to spend that money,” Chalfant said of the agreement that was put into place based on meetings with the board of supervisors and public hearings.
When the board last left off on the discussion, Chalfant said they were considering spending half of the available amount on bleachers and the other half on some major projects in the school division.
Since then, he has met with booster clubs and an architect regarding the project to replace the aging bleachers.
“Funding is going to be a challenge,” he told the board. While the booster club would like to help out, they’re somewhat limited in what they can do and expect most of their donations to involve labor costs, and maybe up to $20,000.
Three options are on the table for the board to decide on, Chalfant explained.
The first option would tear down the existing concrete bleachers and replace those with aluminum bleachers.
While that sounds easy enough, Chalfant said the hill would have to be stabilized before any new construction could take place.
Pillars would have to be put into the hillside and a four-inch concrete slab added along the slope of the hill for the aluminum bleachers to be anchored to.
The total cost for the first option would be around $340,000, or as Chalfant put it: “well over [the] allotted money.”
The second option would be to remove the concrete bleachers and build a similar construction of aluminum bleachers on what is now considered the visitors’ side of the stadium – essentially swapping the home and visitor sidelines.
The old bleachers would be removed and a grassy hillside could be made for seating for visitors. That would save the roughly $100,000 it will cost to tear up and prep the hillside for installation of the bleachers.
Chalfant said the estimated $225,000 is “closer to what we have, but double what we allotted.”
The third option Chalfant gave would be for the board to decide it couldn’t afford the difference in the cost and allocated funds. The board could then spend the entire $206,000 on facilities and things the division needs desperately in other areas, such as boilers, roofing, lighting and electrical upgrades.
Timing & Funding
Beyond which option the board members choose, Chalfant also recommended that they consider spreading the project out over a two-year period.
Noting the short time available in between football season and graduation, Chalfant said it might be best to spread the cost and time for construction over two years.
“We have about a six-month period where we can’t get work started until after graduation is over and then it has to be done by August for football season,” he said. If they wait until after football season, the ground will be frozen and then there is a risk that work couldn’t be completed before graduation.
“I’d like us to at least consider the project over a two-year period for [both] finances and construction,” Chalfant said.
If spread over two years, the permits and paperwork could be done during the summer months, and the division could go through the next season of football with the concrete bleachers in place and begin work immediately following the season.
Additionally, if the board chooses to put $100,000 of the money towards the project, it might be able to find another $100,000 at the end of both the current budget and next year’s budget to reach closer to the $340,000 needed.
“We would spread it out over two budget cycles,” Chalfant continued. “You have to decide if it’s worth putting that much money in it.”
If the board decides it’s not worth spending that kind of money on the project, Chalfant said the board must figure out where to spend the money quickly and decide what to do about the bleachers in the long term.
“If we don’t do the bleachers now, you need to take a good look at that and see the deterioration every year,” Chalfant said. “Not only is it an eyesore, but it’s a potential liability. I’d rather spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on new bleachers than insurance claims. Personally, I don’t think that leaving the bleachers there is an option – but do we have the money to do anything about it? I’m not sure.”
If the school board doesn’t go forward now, Chalfant said it would be starting from scratch later for a project that eventually has to be done.
Talking about his discussions with the booster clubs, Chalfant added that they would approve of any options on the table and realized the financial challenge of replacing the bleachers, but the boosters indicated they would hate to see that $100,000 spent elsewhere.
“They’d like to see [the money] stay somewhere in that athletic facility,” he said. “If it can’t go towards bleachers, they’d like to see it go towards lights or so forth – although if it’s not on the approved list, we’d have to go back and start the process over again.”
Board Member Gary Burris opened the discussion by saying that the current bleachers can’t be left alone. Not only are they an eyesore, they are also growing more dangerous every year.
Board Member Fred Weatherman said he liked the idea of the two-year plan.
Regardless of the time frame and costs, Burris said the bleachers have to come out eventually. “There’s no getting around it. If it’s unsafe for the home [crowd], it’s unsafe for the visitors – whom are more likely to bring a lawsuit.”
Board Member Wynn Combs asked if the bleachers could be painted and/or repaired to last longer.
Chalfant said they could certainly do some cosmetic work for graduation, but long term that was not a good solution.
Chairman Hobert Bailey asked if Chalfant could get an estimate on repairs and see if that’s even possible.
The division’s maintenance supervisor, Roy Anders, said that while the school system hasn’t gotten any estimates on repairing bleachers lately, he said in the past it has taken about $800 worth of paint and $500-600 in concrete.
“But the biggest problem is everything is washing out underneath them?” Bailey asked.
“[The bleachers] are sliding forward,” Anders said, noting that if the amount of dirt the bleachers have shoveled up is any indication, there isn’t much dirt below them. “You can look at where we patched them the year before and they’ve slid a half inch to three-fourths of an inch forward.”
“Eventually they’ve got to be torn out,” Burris said again. “It’s going to become a safety hazard and it’s going to have to be fixed. It’s a big job and a lot of expense, but what do you do?”
Chalfant said he would narrow the options down to two or three and have those prepared for the board to vote on during their May meeting.