Wood BOE freezes spending on Stadium Field

PARKERSBURG – The Wood County Board of Education is calling for more transparency on how funds were spent on Stadium Field and said some contractors have not been paid for completed work.

Board President Tim Yeater at Monday’s school board meeting also ordered Superintendent Pat Law to not pay for any more work being done at the stadium. The comments followed a nearly hour-long executive session to discuss issues with contracts awarded for repair and replacement of bleachers at Stadium Field.

The stadium bleachers were condemned in November 2012 after a preliminary structural survey determined they were no longer safe. Fundraising and engineering groups scrambled to come up with a plan to cover more than $3 million in needed repairs and renovations for the home- and visitor-side bleachers.

After multiple delays and reports of rising costs, the home-side bleachers reopened in September for the Big Red Football Team’s second game of the season.

Board members Monday questioned Earl Johnson, president of the Parkersburg High School Stadium Committee, concerning the history of the project. Johnson said the board pledged $700,000 for the project, with the committee securing a $600,000 loan.

The estimated cost of the project at that time was between $1.2 million-$1.4 million to repair the home-side bleachers.

Johnson said the group has continued to do fundraising and solicit donations from area businesses and contributors and has begun to pay back the $600,000 loan. He provided no concrete numbers at Monday’s meeting concerning how much money had been raised or how much money remained.

Yeater, however, said some contractors who had completed work on the project had not yet been paid.

“There are some people that we got into an agreement with that need paid,” he said. “Any entity that went into the stadium with the expectation they were going to get paid for their work should have been paid.”

Board members said that liability should not fall on the shoulders of Wood County Schools, but rather would be the responsibility of the stadium committee, which is part of the Parkersburg High School Big Red Boosters. Board member Jim Fox said the $700,000 board contribution was a one-time deal.

“At that time we said this is it,” Fox said. “Was it your understanding we were under any obligation to foot the bill for any additional needs?”

“No sir,” said Johnson.

Others did not agree.

In an interview outside of the meeting, Parkersburg attorney Pat McFarland said he is representing a group of businessmen and contributors who donated money to the Stadium Field project. McFarland said after several contracts were awarded the cost of the project jumped from $1.3 million to $1.7 million and eventually more than $2 million.

Despite attempts to reduce the costs and businesses and donors offering free materials and labor for some phases of work, the project is $300,000 to $400,000 above budget with half of the stadium seating not completed.

“The board of education is responsible for paying the bill,” McFarland said.

McFarland said it appears the project was mishandled, with the terms of contracts changing after those contracts were awarded and the cost of different phases severely underestimated.

“Who was responsible for those estimates? Who put those estimates together?” he said. “We have some very serious questions about this.”

McFarland said he and others are asking the board to order a full audit of the project.

“We are hoping that will shed some light on how this project went so out of control,” he said. “We have a serious, serious problem.”

During Monday’s meeting Yeater expressed anger over the board being asked to cover the remaining cost of the project.

“We need to make sure no more money is spent on the stadium,” Yeater said. “No more work is to be approved at that stadium unless it comes across our desk, period.”

Yeater addressed the committee.

“We are freezing all spending until we get some answers,” he said. “You can plan all you want, and if we don’t get something done that was required by the state fire marshal, hang a sign on it. We can’t use it.”

Fox said he wants a better accounting from the stadium committee concerning how money was raised and where it went. He also wanted more information on how the board’s contribution was used.

“I think we owe it to the community to explain where our $700,000 went,” said Fox.

“What we don’t want to do is send the message to the community that we are going to start paying for stadiums or turf or uniforms,” Yeater said. “If we can’t pay for a stadium, we have a fiscal responsibility not to build it.”