Charleston Daily Mail

Area high schools hope new bleachers will be installed in time for season

Rich Stevens
Daily Mail sportswriter

Monday April 09, 2007

New bleachers are on the way for five Kanawha County high school football stadiums and the soccer field at South Charleston High School.

It's just that some will have to wait longer than others.

A $44 million school bond levy passed in 2003 allocated funds for the replacement of bleachers at Herbert Hoover, Sissonville, Nitro, St. Albans, George Washington and South Charleston. That funding will be used later this spring to begin demolition and replacement.

Chuck Wilson, the facilities director at the Kanawha County Board of Education, said the project will cost $6.6 million to include "soft costs," like reviews by regulatory agencies and testing.

The replacement was expected to begin sooner. However, after coming in $2.9 million over budget, the process was pushed back when the county had to reopen the bidding.

"We expected to be over budget, but not that much," Wilson said. "Several of the contractors and bleacher suppliers bid, but their bids were disqualified."

One company wasn't bonded and others didn't receive some of the modifications in the bidding documents.

"The scope was increased on the project to add more seating to meet SSAC standards and there has been a tremendous increase in the price of aluminum," Wilson added. "The market is extremely volatile."

Some school officials are concerned with having to play home games on the road in August or September. The football season opens Aug. 20.

That means schools could lose money on concessions and the gate, in addition to being forced to pay more for team transportation to an alternate playing site.

However, the bleachers could be replaced at the six locations by the end of August.

A vote on bids to demolish the current bleachers is scheduled during an April 19 board meeting, three days after the bids open for the replacement of the bleachers. The approval of that bid must be put on the agenda for a later meeting.

"I don't want to tear down bleachers if new ones aren't coming," said Wilson, who indicated that enough should be known about the replacement bids to approve one for the demolition on April 19. "It's not a huge job. Community members will ask, Where are the bleachers?' There will be a lag time and I expect we'll get a lot of calls during that time."

He said the replacement is expected to begin in July with two schools being completed per month. That would leave George Washington -- which plays all but one of its home games at University of Charleston Stadium/Laidley Field -- and South Charleston until September.

"There's a very good chance they could get them all up by the end of August," Wilson said. "It depends on what bleacher manufacturer gets the bid. We'll know more on April 16."

The plan was to install an average of 4,000 seats at the six fields, including South Charleston High's soccer field at the school.

It does not include Oakes Field, where the Black Eagles play home football games.

The SSAC requires seating for 4,000 if a stadium is to qualify for Class AAA playoff games.

Wilson also said the board is moving on the project, but if bleachers aren't complete for all the schools to play their home games at home, there are alternatives.

"We've asked for all the teams to submit their schedules so that the folks here can evaluate them and if there are opportunities, we'll look at that," Wilson said. "We don't want to put anybody out on the athletic side. It's very complicated and there are a lot of people involved and we understand that."

South Charleston Principal Bill Walton said Oakes Field will be available for schools on Saturdays if they are unable to play home games. The Black Eagles play home games on Friday nights.

St. Albans Assistant Principal Dick Campbell said he's confident the issue will be worked out.

"The fact is, most of our bleachers are dangerous and need to be replaced," Wilson said.

"We had a structural engineering firm look into them and found that only Laidley and Riverside met the safety codes. The codes have become more restrictive over the years."