UPDATE: Bleacher Issue At Stadium Field Still Unresolved

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Update: 8/26/2015 4:40 P.M.

Another high school football season is here..

But a controversy over Parkersburg High School's stadium hasn't gone away.

The renovated bleachers on the home side of Stadium Field are now almost two years old.

But little has happened toward renovation of the bleachers on the other side.

The Stadium Field committee raised money toward the renovation two years ago.

It says efforts to raise money toward renovating the other side have been on hold, while reimbursement for the original project is resolved.

The project contractor was paid, but the Wood County Board of Education has sought reimbursement for the money that was paid the company.

"When the stadium committee got involved in this, the board of education was going to contribute $700,000 of the $1.3 million (estimate), and they said they would raise $600,000," says committee attorney Patrick McFarland. "They raised the $600,000, and, in fact, they raised $1.3 million toward this project."

The board last year tacked on a one dollar surcharge to PHS tickets to help reimburse the $455,000 it paid the project contractor.

Administrators say that hasn't come close to meeting that total.

That's all they'll say on the matter, however.

McFarland, meantime, says the committee's dispute over the matter isn't with board administration, but with certain board members.

UPDATE 6/20/2014 5:10 PM

Rules weren't followed, resulting in miscommunication.

More reaction coming in regarding the audit of the project at Stadium Field.

Representing a number of people that helped to raise funds for the Stadium Field project, attorney Pat McFarland says there were some improprieties that allowed the true cost of the project not to be known.

Also, that the rules set in place by the state for such a project weren't followed and therefore the work continued when the funding wasn't available.

But at this point, he says it's best to move on and not blame each other.

"We just want to get it fixed, move forward and make it the shrine of our community that it once was," says McFarland. "Nobody wants to point fingers. Nobody want to play the blame game. We just want to move forward and do the best we can for the young people of this community."

The agenda for Tuesday's board of education meeting so far does not include discussion of the audit.

UPDATE 6/19/2014 4:50 PM

The board acted in good faith.

That's the reaction from the president of the Wood County School Board to Wednesday's audit of the Stadium Field project.

President Tim Yeater also believes the board did not do anything criminal or negligent in how it handled the project.

The auditor's conclusion is that the board should've had more oversight over the project instead of leaving that to the stadium committee.

But Yeater admits there is room for improvement.

Although the board of education's just-released agenda doesn't mention it, school administrators say the audit's recommendations could be discussed at next Tuesday's regular board meeting.

UPDATE 6/18/2014 4:40 PM

The audit found the stadium committee made 27 of 28 decisions to change the project without the approval of the school board.

And it recommends major changes in how the board oversees major projects.

As for who has the ultimate responsibility for the problems with the financing of the project, the report named the board of education, and none of the other parties directly or indirectly involved with the project.

It was commissioned after questions arose late last year, when the project's final cost was revealed.

One thing it notes is that while the bleacher renovations were completed in mid-September of last year, there were change orders approved as late as January of this year.

And none of those project changes, it said, had the board's approval.

The Wood County prosecutor, who released the report Wednesday afternoon, says it plans to work with the board to make changes in the way projects like this are handled.

"We were able to meet with the auditor last week, and get some guidance on the formal report that was issued today, with regard to some procedures I'm going to recommend the board put into place, so that, in the future, these issues don't occur again," says Prosecutor Jason Wharton.

The report says while the board may have authorized the Stadium Field Committee to authorize changes in the project, the auditors could not determine if any such changes or change orders, in fact, got the committee's approval.

The report recommends the board should have a review process involving all contracts and project and cost changes, or change orders.

It says change orders cannot be used to include work not in the original contract.

Specifically, it says one package in the contract should have been re-bid due to major differences from the original plan.

All this, it says, while the board is keeping an eye open to make sure project costs are kept to a minimum.

The audit report goes on to say the board should follow guidelines for major construction projects established by the West Virginia Department of Education.

And, it says, it should not delegate responsibilities such as purchasing controls to outside parties such as fundraising groups.

Updated: 6/18/2014 2:45 P.M.

The Wood County Board of Education-and not a designated committee-should have had more oversight over the project to renovate Parkersburg High School's Stadium Field.

That's among the findings of a report from the West Virginia Auditor's office, requested by the board last March. That report was released Wednesday.

"Through inquiry, we determined that the board may have allowed the stadium committee, a component of the Big Red Boosters, to authorize changes to the project," the report said. "We were unable to ascertain exactly what aspects of the project and/or change orders were authorized by the committee due to limitations in the scope of our work."

The audit report reccommends the board have greater review of future construction contracts and changes in those approved contracts, to make sure cost modifications have been properly done.

Wood County Prosecutor Jason Wharton, representing the board, says he will work with the board of education to implement the auditor's reccommendations.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Patrick Law could not comment on the findings, saying they will be discussed at a future board of education meeting.


Update: 3/11/2014 5:15PM

The board recently agreed to pay most of the money it owes the construction company which renovated the home seating area last year.

But it doesn't agree a surcharge on ticket sales is the way to re-pay that money.

The board agreed on a five-year plan...in which a set amount of money would be raised toward paying off the project.

$100,000 was one figure mentioned.

But a vote on that won't be taken until the board meeting set for two weeks from now.

"18 years is stretching it out a long time," said Board President Tim Yeater. "That's a lot of debt to incur. The other side of that is, if you strap the group so hard, you're going to make it harder for them to fund-raise."

Superintendent Dr. Pat Law estimated that a ticket surcharge could bring in more than 16-thousand dollars a year, and another nine thousand if it were to include elementary and middle school sports.

The board Tuesday also discussed the process for hiring a successor to Dr. Law, who is retiring at the end of the school year.

It includes interviews with potential candidates, a public forum on March 29th including the finalists for the post, and a final selection April eighth.


UPDATE 3/11/2014 5:15 PM

The big issue regarding the future of Big Reds athletics continues.

Last year's renovation of Parkersburg High School's Stadium Field is, once again, an issue at Tuesday night's Wood County Board of Education meeting.

Last month the board approved payment of 90 percent of the bill it owes the construction company who did the project.

Now, it plans to vote on a plan for the board to be re-paid that money.

It's been accepted that the Stadium Field committee, which raised money last year for the project, is expected to reimburse the board for payment on that project.

The committee thought it had covered the project costs, using initial cost figures it was presented more than a year ago.

But it was found late last year that as much as $455,000 was still owed for the addition of new bleachers to the home side of the PHS field.

An audit of that project has been authorized by the board.

Finances of a different kind are also up for discussion.

The board is to be briefed on the process of organizing next year's school system budget.

That budget is to be finalized later this spring.

UPDATE 2/12/2014 11:00 PM

The Wood County Board of Education Wednesday night authorized Finance Director Connie Roberts to seek a construction audit of the Parkersburg High School stadium committee, and an audit of the boosters club.

At issue is the costs and fund-raising for bleacher renovations at Stadium Field.

Board members say the audits are not designed to find fault, but instead to provide transparency of the process of raising money for the project.

Costs for the project were $700,000 above the original estimates. More than $400,000 remains to be paid for the work.

In a related matter, the board unanimously approved to continue the services of Pickering Associates for another year.

Pickering was the project engineer for the Stadium Field renovation.

UPDATE 1/29/2014 4:20 PM

A big decision Tuesday night by the Wood County Board of Education.

The board says it won't pay for the remainder of the costs of last year's Stadium Field repairs.

That cost is more than $400,000.

But school administrators say they can't pay for that and continue good quality education.

"We have a great stadium; everybody agrees it's a good thing. But the bill's there, and it needs to be paid," says Connie Roberts, Finance Director for Wood County Schools. "We need to hold the boosters and the Stadium Committee responsible for that, and we need to work out an agreement to pay that back to the board, so it does not hurt the education system."

And what about those repairs on the other side of the stadium, which still haven't been done?

PHS Athletic Director Lori Lowers says while the visitors' side is a long-term goal, the priority right now is getting last year's repairs paid off.

Her outlook on getting those repairs done this year is - in her words - very doubtful.

Update: 1/28/2014 10:30 P.M.

Who was minding the store when money was being collected, and work in progress, to renovate the bleachers at Stadium Field?

There still isn't a definite answer, but the project engineer believes that can be corrected...in the future.

"I think a contract can describe the stakeholders," the board of education was told by Ryan Taylor, President, Pickering Associates, "and describe who makes the changes, and who agrees to extras."

School administrators say they were assured there was money last summer to cover increasing project costs.

"I constantly asked, throughout the whole process, 'we're over, is the money there'? And I was told, yes, they've raised the money," said Connie Roberts, Wood County Schools Finance Director:

"Now, who gave you those answers as you asked those questions?," she was asked.

"I believe I heard something to that effect from Mr. Taylor."

Even with a payment received Monday from the stadium committee, promised last week, $444,000 is still owed the project contractors.

"We're not going to pay that $444,000, in regards to it coming out of our account," declared Board President Tim Yeater.

The board instructed the stadium committee to meet with administrators to work out a solution. Although there have been reports to the contrary, the committee says it's still getting donations.

"It's slowed down," committee member Earl Johnson said of recent fundraising, "and with the economy and the holidays, but we anticipate it will pick back up."

But paying off the debt, with a portion of the project still undone, could be a large task.


UPDATE 1/24/2014 5:05 PM

What's next for the financing of Stadium Field?

Nothing is certain, except another discussion is planned for next week.

The Stadium Committee did offer to pay part of the remaining half million dollar costs of the project's first half.

But board members still questioned the project engineer Thursday night, wanting to know more about the increased costs leading to those still-unpaid bills.

The board, when it meets next Tuesday night, also hopes to find out more about area banks' decision not to lend any more money for the project.

They took that action Wednesday, saying they, too, needed to know more about the project's spiraling costs.

Update: 1/23/2014 11:15 P.M.

More discussion Thursday night on P.H.S. Stadium Field-but not a lot of agreement.-on how to pay for renovations now five months old.

There was some potential good news: part of what's owed one of the project contractor could be paid as soon as Friday.

But there are still a lot of questions about the more than half a million dollars owed for the project.

But the Wood County Board of Education also was told eight area banks have decided not to loan any more money to the project.

They still why to know why the project costs escalated last year.

A representative of the stadium committee, who made a presentation to the board on the cost increases, said it would like the board to find the money to pay off the rest of the outstanding costs.

"At the end of the day we believe that the stadium committee only has a certain ability to raise money, and we believe the $200,000 level is the right amount of money we have a reasonable chance of raising," Stadium Committee Representative Greg Bolton said. "Keep in mind, we've raised more than $700,000, and with the additional $200,000, the stadium committee will have raised more than $900,000 for the construction and renovation of the stadium."

A representative of one of the banks was at the meeting, but could not discuss in further detail the lenders' decision.

Board President Tim Yeater agreed that the board may have to foot the bill, if no other funding sources are found.

The board of education is expected to discuss this issue again, when it holds its regular meeting next Tuesday night.


UPDATE 1/21/2014 5:25 PM

Paying the bills.

Backers of the Stadium Field renovations discuss the options.

That, while they still want to know how an estimate of $1.3 million for the project nearly a year ago turned into a bill of more than $2 million for the project finished last September.

And no renovations have been made yet to the visitors side of the field.

Fundraising has reportedly been put on hold and Attorney Patrick McFarland says it isn't known how a bank loan for the project will be paid off.

McFarland says that while modifications in the original project design were considered, supporters of the renovation believed things like handicapped accessibility were part of the original plan and its cost estimate.

The Wood County Board of Education is to meet again Thursday night at 6:30 to talk more about the issue.

UPDATE 1/17/2014 4:45 PM

Was the time factor the reason?

This week, Wood County Board of Education members, backers of the Stadium Field project and attorneys have been asking questions about the costs of last year's renovation of the stadium's home side.

First of all, Ryan Taylor of Pickering Associates says he is proud of the work his company and the contractors it hired did to get the field ready for most of the 2013 Parkersburg High School football season.

Taylor says most of the renovation's cost increases came in the project's third phase, the portion which involved the most labor.

He adds, however, that the "fast track" nature of the project - necessary to get the home seating side of the stadium ready for use in September - required more labor than Pickering had anticipated.

Taylor says he would welcome an audit - something being called for by people questioning the expenses.

"I think it would be the right thing to do, because it would provide transparency for everyone, if that is the reason," he says. "But we could also save $15-20,000 if we sit down and resolve this. And I hope we can resolve this soon."

Taylor says the project involved was a lot of labor that was donated, including work done by his own company.

But, he adds, even considering that, the last weeks of the construction work involved a lot of overtime by paid construction workers.

Update: 1/16/2014 5:40 P.M.

There will be a special board meeting for the Wood County Board of Education on Thursday, January 23, 2014 at 6:30 p.m. to discuss Parkersburg High School stadium construction funding.

Board members Monday night told backers of the renovation project that no more money will be provided for repair work for the time being.

That, after the board was told bills remain unpaid from last year's repairs to the bleachers on the stadium's home side.

The attorney representing some members of the stadium committee and other interested parties met with his clients Thursday, but we're told no decisions came from that meeting.


Update: 1/14/2014 6:40 P.M.

It's been nearly five months since the home side bleachers have been completed, and more than two months since the end of football season. but with bills still to be paid.

"There was some great talk about what our responsibility is," Tim Yeater, President of the Wood County Board of Education, said Monday night. "But if we can't pay for a stadium, we have a fiscal responsibility for this county not to build it."

The stadium committee, which was involved in the fund raising last year to get those bleachers built, wants to know what was involved in the changes in cost estimates; estimates which went higher and higher as the summer went on.

"Action was already taken and reliance made on those early estimates," Pat McFarland, Parkersburg Attorney, who is representing some of the Stadium committee members. "People were committed to this project, contracts were awarded. It was sort of a 'dammed if you do, dammed if you don't type of situation.'"

The project contractor said at the time safety issues were behind the cost increases.

"It will not meet life safety code requirements, it will not have an ADA handicapped ramp, it will not have the front row and some stairs, Ryan Taylor of Pickering and Associates, told the board in July, 2013"

McFarland suggests there hasn't been enough oversight on the time involved and the materials needed to complete the project. and the visitors side of the field remains to be worked on.

"We're going to sit down and develop a plan incorporating all of the things needed to be done in the stadium," Earl Johnson, PHS Stadium Committee Member, said Monday. "Then, have a dream plan out there where we can begin to acquire funding to do the rest of the project."

Tthat won't happen at all until later this year, and perhaps not at all without the money.

UPDATE 1/14/2014 9:30 AM

The community rallied around the Stadium Field project last fall, meeting the deadline to make sure the Big Reds played at home.

Monday night the people behind the fundraising effort and the board met behind closed doors to talk about the project's finances, including how the money was spent and why the estimated cost climbed at the last minute.

Following a 42 minute executive session with the fundraisers, board president Tim Teater announced the board will not sign any more checks for work done on the stadium until it can get a better handle on where the money has gone.

The attorney representing the businessmen who spearheaded the final phase of the fundraising believes the board needs to call for an audit.

"We're optimistic that the board is going to order an audit. I think an audit is probably necessary just to see where the cost differentials came in. One of the problems when these contract initially awarded and bid they were firm price contracts. After the horrible under estimation of the third contract they changed some of these contracts from firm price to time and material price and there was no time and materials by where the cost was going to be capped by what the prior bid was. There was really questionable oversight as to how much labor was going to be involved. All kinds of other issues like that. The audit will help that out," says attorney Pat McFarland.

"No doubt there's concern about that and I can't provide an answer for that. But I definitely agree that people are concerned about. However I think someone mentioned in the meeting that the end product is really something that we're proud of and it's a good quality project that we have done. Hopefully people will continue to give once we start moving forward and get these invoices paid," says PHS Stadium Commitee member Earl Johnson.

Here's the background:

The board agreed to give $700,000 to the effort last spring.

The stadium committee of the PHS boosters organization then rounded up $600,000 from a group of area banks.

Together, that $1.3 million met the initial estimate for the renovation of the west side of the stadium.

But those costs eventually ballooned to more than $1.7 million plus another $100,000 worth of donated services.

The stadium field committee understands the concern and tells WTAP News it plans to meet again soon.

UPDATE 9/20/2013

Stadium Field has been cleared for occupancy.

That's the ruling from Mark Stewart of the West Virginia Fire Marshal's office.

One final inspection.

That's all that remains before Stadium Field is ready for some football.

Stadium Field committee member Joe Weaver tells us inspectors were at the site Thursday morning, and that, so far, everything is ready for the first actual Parkersburg Big Reds home game Friday night.

In the words of the athletic department, all that remains are a few things that need to be bolted down.

That final inspection is set for Friday morning.

The Stadium Field bleachers were condemned late last year.

Parkersburg High School's first scheduled home game was moved to Marietta last month while renovation work on the bleachers was still in progress.

Parkersburg High School Stadium Field Renovations will be ready for Friday's game.

There was a moment when many thought Parkersburg High School would not be able to play home games at Stadium Field this year but this Friday, they will.

"Well the great news is on Friday night, September 20th, we are going to play our first home game of the season against Capital here at Stadium Field," said Head Football Coach Don Reeves.

The news about Friday's game is all the football players and cheerleaders can talk about.

"Ah it feels great coming home, first home game of the season, in the new stadium I think it is going to be a great game," said Varsity Football Player, Melvin Stubbs.

"Oh it's really exciting. Everyone just gets ready for Friday night football, it's the best thing that happens in Parkersburg," said Varsity Cheerleader, Elle Asbury.

"We've been waiting for this to get done. A couple months ago, we didn't know if we were going to get to play here, it's good to know we are going to get to play at home," Varsity Football Player, Aaron Roberts.

Athletic director Lori Lowers says, this could not have happened without the community support.

"We were able to make this because we had some community members who stepped in and helped us do the fund raising because our biggest issue was money. We were running out of money to complete the project, if they hadn't of, we would not have had any home football games here this season, which would have been devastating to our student athletes and to the community," said Lowers.

The Stadium Field committee says they are excited and thankful to the community and looking towards the next step in the renovation process.

"The next step after Friday is to rest for a couple of days, and then evaluate the visitors side and get it open as soon as possible especially for next years play," said Joe Weaver, Stadium Field Committee spokesperson.

So far the renovation process has completed just the home side of the bleachers.

"We still have a pretty big loan that the stadium committee, a $600,000 loan we need to pay off, but ya know we have already started talking about the visitors side. It is definitely going to have to be completed as well, but right now we are thrilled just to be able to play here Friday night," said Lowers.

With the community behind them, The Big Reds are more than ready for Friday night.

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