LEVY WOULD PAY FOR NEW BLEACHERS, STANDS ARE PROJECT FOR BOOSTER CLUBS, NOT TAXPAYERS, THAW SAYS


Publication: THE SUNDAY GAZETTE-MAIL
Published: 10/05/2003
Page: 1B
Headline: LEVY WOULD PAY FOR NEW BLEACHERS, STANDS ARE PROJECT FOR BOOSTER CLUBS, NOT TAXPAYERS, THAW SAYS
Byline: BY ERIC EYRE ERICEYRE@WVGAZETTE.COM


Nitro High School football fans can do "The Wave" on Friday nights. And they don't even have to stand up.

The wood bleachers at the football stadium, known as Underwood Field, are warped and splintered. The cinderblocks underneath are crumbling. The bleachers haven't been replaced since 1970.


"I worry the thing will fall," said Nitro Principal Paul McClanahan. "They definitely need to be replaced."


Kanawha County school board members have set aside about $3 million in the proposed excess levy to buy new bleachers at Nitro, Herbert Hoover, St. Albans, George Washington, South Charleston and Sissonville high schools.


Voters will decide whether to approve the excess levy on Oct. 18. The current levy, with a $38 million cap, expires in July.


School board member Jim Crawford, a former football coach, has toured stadiums across the county.


"They're in such disarray," Crawford said. "If we don't find a way to repair those, I'm afraid people are going to get hurt."


The state school funding formula and School Building Authority provide no money for sports fields and stadiums. Some schools get money to fix up fields from the state Budget Digest, a special fund that legislators tap for pet projects each year.


But for the most part, county school boards must use local money to repair stadiums and ballparks. Or booster clubs pitch in.


This isn't the first time the Kanawha County school board has used sports facility improvements to entice voters to support a proposed tax increase.


Three years ago, the school board promised to build second gyms at high schools throughout the county as part of a $27.5 bond to renovate St. Albans High School. Voters approved the bond.


But excess levy opponents say the levy should be about academics, not athletics.


"Bleachers aren't a taxpayer project. They're a booster club project," said school board member Pete Thaw, who opposes raising the levy cap to $44.3 million. "We're talking about lumber and nails."


"This is an extension of 'Let's give everybody something and get their money,'" Thaw added.


At Nitro, up to 4,000 fans can pack the home and visitor bleachers on Friday night when the football team is winning games.


Last year, maintenance workers screwed boards atop the stadium's wood benches. The boards already have sprung loose in some places.


The cinderblocks, which support the benches, have cracked and eroded after 30 years of wear and tear.


"It scares me," McClanahan said. "The water goes in, freezes, expands, contracts."


Nitro Mayor Rusty Casto voted on the excess levy by absentee ballot on Friday. He noted that many seniors attend football games. They deserve a safe, comfortable place to sit, he said.


"The bleachers just look awful," Casto said. "They sure could use new ones."


The excess levy also would pay a portion of teacher and service worker salaries, textbooks, maintenance and supplies.


To contact staff writer Eric Eyre, use e-mail or call 348-4869.