Wood BOE calls for financial audit

PARKERSBURG – The Wood County Board of Education is calling for a financial audit of all booster groups involved with renovations at Parkersburg High School Stadium Field.

The board also has asked for an audit of the construction project, including how bids were awarded, how items were added and how money was spent on the more than $2 million project.

Board members Wednesday directed Finance Director Connie Roberts to approach state and private auditors to determine possible costs and timelines for the audits. Board President Tim Yeater said he believed the audits are necessary to clear up some of the confusion surrounding the project and to provide greater transparency for the public.

Earlier this year the school board stopped all work on the stadium after questions arose concerning ballooning costs and fundraising for the project.

Superintendent Pat Law said he and central office staff met last week with representatives of the PHS Stadium Renovation Committee to discuss how the committee could pay back $455,000 the school system likely will pay to Grae-Con Construction for work completed on the project.

Law said the group spend about an hour-and-a-half discussing ways to raise money, but he said none of the suggestions would produce enough cash quickly enough. Some of those suggestions included $49,000 in pledges which have not yet been collected, fundraising events specifically for the stadium, and raising the surcharge for groups using the facility.

“There is not a lot on that list that is a great amount of money,” Law said, adding at first he estimated it would take the group four years to pay off the debt, but now “it’s looking more like 10 years to pay this off.”

Yeater said he believed the audit would help the school board better understand the finances of the booster groups, as well as help answer many of the questions surrounding the renovation project.

“Here is the question I am concerned with as a board: ‘Did we do something inappropriate?’ I think we owe that answer to the public that we didn’t do anything illegal,” he said. “It may not have turned out the way we liked it, but it wasn’t done inappropriately. We didn’t do anything wrong here, and I think that is the benefit of the audit.”

PHS Principal Pam Goots said she believed the audits would help clear up some of the misconceptions and erroneous information in the community.

“We think the audit will show that everyone acted in the best interest. Things didn’t go the way we wanted them to, but everyone had good intentions,” she said. “I think the audit will help with that.”

The board voted 4-0, with board member John Marlow absent, to renew an architectural and engineering services contract with Pickering Associates and ZMM for one year. Pickering Associates was the project management firm on the Stadium Field renovation project.

There was no discussion prior to the vote. The board had renewal or putting the contract out for bid on the agenda for a vote, but board member Tad Wilson recommended renewal, with board member Lawrence Hasbargen seconding the motion.

The school board also directed Mike Fling, assistant superintendent of school services, to move forward on the site selection process for a new Williamstown Elementary School.

The board tabled approval of a site in December after questions arose concerning the 11-acre Fenton Art Glass Factory property in Williamstown, which had been identified as one of two possible sites for the new school and was recommended to the board by a school committee.

At the time the board said more due diligence was needed to evaluate the site before making a decision, but on Tuesday Fling said without the board’s approval to move forward, he would not perform that due diligence.

“We need to fish or cut bait, decide what we are going to do and move on,” Fling said. “Right now I’m stuck. I can’t move forward and I can’t go back.”

Many of the questions put forth by the board, such as who would pay for an environmental study of the site and whether any part of the factory or gift shop would remain intact and in operation, would be answered as part of the process, Fling said. Allowing him to move forward on those questions would not obligate the board to purchase the property, he said.

“Get this thing started, Mike,” Yeater said. “Let’s move on.”

The school board voted 4-0 to change the current school year calendar to make Monday, Feb. 17, an instructional day for students. The board also approved April 21 as an instructional day, but kept April 18, Good Friday, as a non-attendance day for students.