Charleston Gazette

July 20, 2007

Bleacher snag puts schools in bind

·  Construction delay could affect some season openers

By Rick Ryan
Assistant Sports Editor

When high school football season kicks off a little more than a month from now, some Kanawha County schools may be forced to improvise for their home openers.

Four county schools — St. Albans, Nitro, Sissonville and Herbert Hoover — are still awaiting the installation of new bleachers at their football fields, a process that takes about five weeks. Architectural problems with the contractor stand at the root of the delay.

For at least two of those schools, St. Albans and Sissonville, timing is indeed critical because they have early home games scheduled. In fact, SA’s first three games, starting with an Aug. 24 date against Ripley, were all set for Crawford Field. Sissonville’s home opener comes Aug. 31 against Point Pleasant.

“We’re in the contingency planning process right now,’’ said Chuck Wilson, the facilities director for the Kanawha County Board of Education. “It’s looking less likely that [the bleachers will] be there for the opening games.’’

The crunch isn’t as tough for Hoover and Nitro, since their first home dates are Sept. 7 and 14, respectively. But Nitro is one of three schools also getting a new press box, so its installation process should take longer.

“There are some people getting a little bit nervous,’’ said Nitro Principal Paul McClanahan. “I haven’t been able to get any real firm [estimations] about anything. We were talking [Thursday] about maybe playing a game at Laidley Field. We’re walking a tightrope here.’’

George Washington and South Charleston, the two other Kanawha schools being fitted for new bleachers and press boxes, won’t be as affected by the delay. GW didn’t have a home game scheduled this season at Steve Edwards Sr. Field on its South Hills campus, and SC’s bleachers are going in at its soccer field near the high school and not at Oakes Field, where it plays football.

Sissonville has already decided to play its home opener at Joe Sawyers Field even if the bleachers aren’t ready.

“We’ll probably just stay put,’’ said Calvin McKinney, the school’s principal. “We’ll probably bring in some portable bleachers and try to inform the public to bring their lawn chairs, and we’ll just make do. That’s my thinking right now.

“When you don’t have any control over the situation, you just have to live with it and move on. So we’ll tell people to bring their blankets and lawn chairs and put them on the hillside and sit there. We’ll still play our home games there unless the weather is such that we can’t. Yes, it’s an inconvenience, but sometimes you’ve got to do those things.’’

Wilson explained that the delay arose when the contractor, Steel Stadiums of Graham, Texas, included some design flaws in the detailed drawings they sent the county.

“When we received them,’’ Wilson said, “there was some information on the drawings that wouldn’t work. They had bleachers where the press boxes are, and they also didn’t take into account the terrain, even though we had provided full surveys to them. They’re used to laying out for flat sites, but that doesn’t work well at Sissonville and Hoover. So they had to redo them and, frankly, they’ve been real slow.’’

Works crews from Steel Stadiums are expected to arrive next week in the Kanawha Valley and begin the installation process. They’re scheduled to start Monday at St. Albans and Wednesday at Nitro. Those crews, working two schools at a time, then shift to Sissonville and Hoover and, finally, to George Washington and South Charleston.

“If everything goes just right,’’ Wilson said, “we could be tightening bolts and getting them inspected on the day of the game. But I’ve been in this business long enough to know that everything doesn’t go right. That’s why we have to have contingency plans.’’

Laidley Field/University of Charleston Stadium will likely see extra games if the bleachers aren’t ready.

Fortunately, the Aug. 24 date is available for SA because Laidley’s two fulltime tenants — Capital and GW — open the season a day earlier. Aug. 31 is not, since GW has a home game, but Saturday, Sept. 1 is a possibility either in the afternoon following the Charleston Distance Run or in the evening. UC is on the road Sept. 1.

Lou Ann Lanham-Henson, manager of Laidley Field, received a call last week from Kanawha schools Superintendent Ron Duerring about keeping her facility “available’’ for the affected schools.

“We’ll help in any way we can,’’ Lanham-Henson said. “That’s what we’re there for.’’

She said schools would receive the same arrangements as Capital and GW if they provide workers at the concession stands — 25 percent of the profits after the 6 percent sales tax.

Before his retirement earlier this week, SC Principal Bill Walton said Oakes Field could be available for county schools to play on Saturdays.

If it has to move games, St. Albans is resigned to losing money in a sport that traditionally produces the most revenue for schools.

“We’ll have to adapt,’’ said SA athletic director Rick Whitman. “We were told at the beginning [the bleachers] would be ready, and they’re not. It’s a case where we’ll lose money. We’ll do what we can do.’’

Even with the delays, Wilson said schools will be better off in the long run.

“It’s important to remember,’’ he said, “that while we’ll be inconvenienced for a couple games, in the long term we’ll have special facilities replacing dilapidated, dangerous bleachers. We needed to tear those bleachers out even if we’re not replacing them.’’

A $44 million school bond levy passed in 2003 allocated funds for the replacement bleachers.

To contact assistant sports editor Rick Ryan, use e-mail or call 348-5175.

Bleacher blues

Early-season schedules for Kanawha County schools affected by the delay in installing new football bleachers:

Herbert Hoover

Aug. 24 — at Ravenswood

Aug. 31 — open

Sept. 7 — Wayne

Sept. 14 — at Logan

Nitro

Aug. 24 — at Poca

Aug. 31 — at George Washington (Laidley)

Sept. 7 — open

Sept. 14 — Spring Valley

Sissonville

Aug. 24 — at Chapmanville

Aug. 31 — Point Pleasant

Sept. 7 — at Winfield

Sept. 14 — Clay County

St. Albans

Aug. 24 — Ripley

Aug. 31 — Spring Valley

Sept. 7 — Princeton

Sept. 14 — at South Charleston