Group wants answers on Stadium Field

PARKERSBURG – A group of businessmen and concerned citizens who raised hundreds of thousands of dollars are asking how a project to renovate Stadium Field at Parkersburg High School could see its cost swell by hundreds of thousands of dollars in less than two months.

The project to renovate and replace bleachers at Stadium Field has come under scrutiny this week after the Wood County Board of Education ordered a stop to all work and demanded answers on why the project is over budget and contractors have not been paid.

The board of education has called for a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday to discuss the stadium construction funding. The meeting will be held at the board’s 13th and Plum streets offices and is open to the public.

The group of donors is asking the board to pay for construction to be completed and to order an audit to answer how money has been spent and why costs soared in the final months of the project.

The group asked Pat McFarland, a Parkersburg attorney, to speak on its behalf to the newspaper. McFarland Thursday said he obtained financial figures for the project when he sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the school system in November.

Three contracts were awarded to Grae-Con Construction of Marietta covering the three phases of work on the home-side bleachers. The original estimates for work placed the cost around $1.3 million. The first two contracts, awarded last year in early April, totaled $852,290, but a third contract awarded May 17 came in at $1.1 million rather than the roughly $700,000 estimate.

“That took the total cost of the project to $1.9 million,” McFarland said. “By the end of May Phase I had already been completed. They were trying to do some cost-saving measures to bring the total down and the people I represent started to get involved near the end of July. At that time they were told to raise another $356,000 to keep construction going.”

The majority of the second phase was completed prior to the first home football game in September. By that time, McFarland said, the cost of the project was projected at more than $2 million.

“In seven weeks the cost of the work jumped to $2 million,” he said. “Who is responsible for that problem?”

McFarland said including a $700,000 pledge by the board of education, $1,376,745 has been paid toward the project, which remains incomplete and on hold. About $59,000 in materials and an estimated $40,000 in labor have been donated to the project.

McFarland said he was told by Grae-Con it is still owed $665,235 for work done on the stadium.

“If you add all of those in, it takes the cost of the project in excess of $2.1 million, when it was initially a $1.3 million project,” he said. “That is about a 65-percent disparity.”

McFarland said there has been a misunderstanding about $600,000 secured by the Parkersburg High School Stadium Committee, which has been fundraising and securing donations and volunteers for the stadium project. McFarland said the group signed for a $600,000 loan, but to date has only drawn $200,000 to go to the project.

McFarland said the intent was never to secure the entire loan upfront, but rather to use it as needed to keep the interest rate lower.

“When the $600,000 loan was taken out, that was done with the belief by people on the stadium committee that money could be raised to pay off that debt,” he said.

Some donations, including part of $198,000 from the businessmen donors currently being kept in trust by the Parkersburg High School Foundation, were intended to help pay down that loan, which would allow for startup money when construction on the visitors side bleachers begins, McFarland said.

Between the $200,000 loan and money raised, McFarland said he believes the stadium committee has raised more than its promised $600,000 contribution to the project.

Ultimately, McFarland said, donors want to know how money has been spent on the project, how the costs increased so rapidly, and who is responsible for completing the project.

“The school board has essentially taken the position that they only committed $700,000 and that is all they are doing,” he said. “The school board is the party that is legally responsible for paying this bill. They were responsible for keeping an eye on the costs.”

Officials with Wood County Schools have directed questions to Wood County Prosecuting Attorney Jason Wharton, who acts as legal counsel for the school board. Wharton did not return calls seeking comment Thursday.

Representatives of construction management firm Pickering Associates have declined to comment on the project, directing questions to Wood County Schools.