Wood County BOE OKs stadium payment

PARKERSBURG – The Wood County Board of Education will repay the majority of an outstanding bill for renovations at Parkersburg High School Stadium Field, but board members said Tuesday they want a better accounting from the booster groups involved in the project.

The board voted 5-0 to pay 90 percent of an outstanding $455,000 bill owed for work completed on the home side bleachers at the stadium. Board members also voted 5-0 Tuesday to hire the state Auditor’s Office to conduct an audit of the more than $2 million construction project. The board will hold 10 percent of the money owed until the audit is completed.

Prior to the vote school board President Tim Yeater read a statement saying the board still believes the PHS Stadium Renovation Committee and the PHS Big Red Boosters are responsible for the remaining cost of the project. The stadium committee is a subgroup of the boosters organization.

Yeater said no work will be authorized on the visitor side of the stadium until the debt is paid by those groups.

The board unanimously approved tacking the $8,000 cost of the construction audit onto the amount to be repaid to the district.

No representatives of the PHS Stadium Renovation Committee attended Tuesday’s meeting, and Superintendent Pat Law said he has struggled to meet with committee members. Law said he recently spoke with committee president Earl Johnson, who indicated repaying the board was not a priority for the committee.

“They feel their primary objective is to pay off their $200,000 loan and feel that is where they need to be concentrating at this point,” Law said.

The school board last year pledged $700,000 toward the renovation project, but said that pledge was based on a promise of $600,000 from the stadium committee plus additional fundraising. The cost of the renovation project jumped in the last several months of work from $1.55 million to more than $2 million, in part, officials say, due to extras that were added to the project by committee members and an accelerated timeline to get the stadium open in time for the high school’s home football games.

The committee drew $200,000 of a promised $600,000 loan before bank officials told the group they could not draw the balance of the loan. The banks said due to the increasing cost of the project they did not believe the committee could raise sufficient funds to pay off the loan.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Law said a preliminary plan developed with Parkersburg High School and the PHS Athletic Department would generate about $25,000 a year by adding a $1 surcharge to all ticket sales for athletic events at the stadium. That would include events that do not normally have a surcharge attached, such as the Junior State Wrestling Tournament, elementary track and middle school sports.

Those funds would be used to pay back money paid by the board to construction firm Grae-Con. However, Law said with only those sources of revenue coming to the school board, it would take 18 years for the school to repay the full $455,000 still owed on the stadium project.

“That is a long period of time for it to be paid off,” he said.

Yeater asked for an action item at the next meeting to approve the plan to pay back the school board, but said that document should be brought back to the board for modification at each meeting as new revenue streams become available.

Board member Tad Wilson said he wanted a better accounting from the booster groups on their finances and how they intend to help pay back the money.

“I don’t know that this is satisfactory,” Wilson said of the PHS payment plan. “I think we need to look at a more holistic approach here. I think we’d like to be paid back in four or five years.”

The school board Tuesday also voted 5-0 to direct Assistant Superintendent Mike Fling to begin discussions on a possible purchase of the Fenton Art Glass property in Williamstown. The property is being looked at as a possible location for a new Williamstown Elementary School.

Yeater said the vote simply gives Fling “the direction and latitude” to begin discussion with the property owners and does not obligate the school system to purchase the property. If those discussions would lead to a need for legal counsel or an expenditure of funds, Fling would bring those recommendations back to the board for approval.

The board had already given permission to Fling to pursue the property, but opted to hold a vote after questions were raised by Gene Bem, president and CEO of USGlass. USGlass has a lease agreement with the Fenton Gift Shop to use the Fenton trademark and had sought to purchase the factory in Williamstown.

“For public clarity, we wanted to make sure this was something we voted on,” Yeater said.