Wood BOE: Committee must help pay stadium bill

PARKERSBURG – The Wood County Board of Education likely will pay a more than $450,000 bill for work at Parkersburg High School Stadium Field, but members say they want the majority of that money paid back to the school system by the PHS Stadium Renovation Committee.

The board moved its regular meeting Tuesday to Jefferson Elementary Center to accommodate the crowds of people who came to attend.

Earlier this month the school board called for a stop on all payments and work related to the project to renovate and replace the stadium’s home-side bleachers after questions emerged concerning the cost of the project and a $665,000 unpaid bill for work completed on the stadium.

The board Tuesday asked questions concerning how decisions were made during the project and how different items added to the final cost of the $1.55 million project, which has now topped $2 million. Most of the discussion, however, revolved around the amount of money left to pay on the project and who would pick up the tab.

Wood County Schools Finance Director Connie Roberts said the district has received the stadium committee’s remaining funds, leaving a balance of $451,529.86 to be paid on the project.

Roberts said throughout the project officials believed the stadium committee had secured a $600,000 loan, and all calculations for the cost of the project were made based on that figure. Last week committee members announced they had only drawn $200,000 of the loan and bank officials had informed the committee it would not be allowed to draw the other $400,000.

“At all times that $600,000 was on the table in calculating the total cost of the project,” Roberts said.

Project manager Ryan Taylor of Pickering Associates agreed.

“I’ve always thought, and still do, that money was part of the project,” he said.

“If we’d had that $400,000,” said board member John Marlow, “we’d be sitting here discussing a $54,000 (shortfall) instead.”

Roberts said in her opinion, while the board is financially responsible for the bills and must pay them, the committee is responsible for not delivering the promised $400,000.

“I think as a board you need to hold them accountable,” she said.

Roberts said if at any time the committee had indicated it did not have the funds, she would have recommended the renovation project stop.

“It would have obligated the board beyond the $700,000 it had promised,” she said. “I constantly asked, ‘We’re over, is the money there? We’re over, is the money there?’ and I was told (by the committee) ‘yes.'”

Roberts said if the board pays the more than $451,000 owed without any way of replacing those funds, it will come at the cost of other projects.

“To take it out of our general fund, it will affect how we will run our facilities,” she said. “There is no revenue stream for athletic facilities. Our educational facilities are our priority.”

Board President Tim Yeater said while the school system is responsible for seeing the bill is paid, he does not believe the board should ultimately pay the cost.

“We’re not going to write a check and that money just goes away,” Yeater said. “We’re not a lending institution.”

Yeater said the school system and stadium committee need to reach an agreement on how that money would be paid back if the board pays the bill. Yeater also said the committee needs to continue to raise money for the project through fundraising and other avenues.

Last week the committee announced it had effectively stopped all fundraising efforts while the finances of the project were being sorted out.

Committee President Earl Johnson did not speak at Tuesday’s meeting, but gave a brief statement during a break in the meeting.

“It was never the intent of the stadium committee to stop raising money for the project,” he said. Johnson declined to comment further or discuss specific numbers.

Roberts said the majority of the board’s $2.1 million unrestricted fund balance for the 2013-14 fiscal year has been obligated to other projects, such as $600,000 for foundation repairs at Edison Middle School. Those particular funds are being matched by state dollars.

Roberts said the district likely has less than $700,000 in its unrestricted fund balance. She said the school district has about $200,000 in contingency funds.

Board members instructed Superintendent Pat Law and other district officials to meet with committee members to come up with a plan for moving forward. The $451,000 owed on the project will be included as an action item on the school board’s Feb 12 meeting.