UNION COUNTY — The Union County Board of School Trustees is being asked to look ahead into the future to address the long-term capital needs of the Union County School District especially as they relate to the Union County Stadium and Union County High School.
The stadium has been the subject of much discussion in recent weeks with the debate centering on whether or not to build a new stadium or try to bring the existing one up to code. An engineering study of the stadium reached the following conclusions about the facility:
• The stadium does not comply with all aspects of the current 2006 IBC Code.
• The facility does not comply with the Americans for Disability Act or current ANSI regulations.
• Construction types required for the Department of Education does not comply in all buildings.
• Restroom facilities currently on site do not meet the fixture counts required by the Department of Education for a stadium facility.
• As stated in the structural evaluation additional testing needs to be conducted on the home bleachers to assure the foundation supporting of the double tee bleachers has no structural issues due to water collection under the stands.
It also states that the stands on the south end of the baseball field are not safe for spectator use and need to be demolished.
The report also states that, were the following repairs/upgrades to be made it could extend the life of the facility, which was built in the 1960s, another 10-15 years while also bringing it into compliance with South Carolina Department of Education standards. Those repairs/upgrades and their costs include:
• New concession and toilet facilities — $550,000
• ADA issue of accessibility — $325,000
• Electrical issues — $150,000
• Site issues — $225,000
• Remaining building issues — $300,000
Total cost — $1,550,000
The board was addressed Monday night about the stadium by Chris Woodson of WBCU Radio who began by speaking about the board’s actions and the message they send about their priorities in addressing the educational and safety needs of the district’s students.
“I am here today to ask that you look ahead into the future and consider what is paramount to the educational and safety needs of the students of Union County,” Woodson said. “At the last board meeting the stadium was discussed and the board acted as if they have no desire to utilize the existing Union County Stadium. I left with the feeling that the school board would rather build a new stadium at the existing high school.
“It has been stated that the primary goal of the school board is to educate our children,” he said. “And that should be the primary goal; however, the board hired a football coach first and then a superintendent. I am excited about both hires; however, I feel it sends mixed message in terms of importance.”
Woodson also addressed the issue of how much the school district spends to use the stadium and the benefits the district reaps from that investment.
“This board stated that it paid $75,000 annually to use the stadium for five nights,” Woodson said. “This is not true. The agreement is a facilities use agreement and includes the stadium, South Hills Complex, Timken Sports Complex, and fields in Jonesville that the district may utilize.
“However, that $75,000 spent in return produces approximately $180,000-$200,000 annually in revenue which goes back to the Athletic Department through ticket sales, concessions, and Booster Club contributions,” he said. “Last year alone the Booster Club put $86,414.60 back into the athletic department. So the money in this instance should be a moot point since that is about $200,000 annually that the district does not have to fund as a budget item.”
Woodson told the board that, instead of building a new stadium at the existing high school, the district’s long-term goal should to build a new high school that will include a stadium.
“When the last state accreditation was done the district was cited for not having a capital improvement plan,” Woodson said. “This needs to be done, but (it) will take time and money in order to address the needs of the district as a whole. I feel that before four to five million dollars is spent on a stadium at the current high school that we need to look longer term and do smaller projects with that money. The long-term goal should be the construction of a new high school which will include a stadium.”
Woodson pointed out that the existing Union County High School “will soon be forty years old and does not have the facilities or technology ” that the more recently built Sims Middle School and Jonesville Elementary/Middle School have. He said this will have to be a project for the long-term given that a new high school with stadium would cost between $50 million and $60 million.
This cost of a new high school with stadium, however, does not mean the district should build a stadium at the existing high school.
“If a stadium is built at the current high scho0l there will be tons of issues: parking, traffic, and lost revenue by area businesses and lost tax revenue — in particular the hospitality tax — that is collected as a result of businesses located around the current stadium which benefit from having games at Union County Stadium,” Woodson said. “This is lost tax revenue that will have to be made up somewhere as we are already a poor county. I for one am tax poor already, and feel we need to look at all issues accordingly before we spend money on a new facility.”
Woodson proposed that the board consider a compromise that would address a number of the district’s needs.
“I feel that a compromise should be made by the county and the school board which would include, but not be limited to, a facilities use agreement for no less than ten years splitting the cost of the stadium upgrades which should cost each around $600,000-700,000,” Woodson said. “Again, the district currently benefits from about $200,000 annually being deposited by the athletic department through ticket sales and Booster Club contributions.
“If this compromise is made the stadium could have a field house to improve player safety during inclement weather (and) maybe the agreement could be expanded to include JV games or Sims and Jonesville games being played at the stadium,” he said. “Attending games at the high school and at Sims can be frustrating because of the facilities. At Sims alone the handicap parking is approximately a quarter-mile away from the bleachers. This is inadequate and frustrating. The same could be said for the high school.”
Woodson said that such a compromise would not only address the situation at the stadium, but also enable the district to address many other capital needs.
“If the plan is to build a stadium at approximately $5 million, why not work with the county and other entities on an agreement and spend maybe $700,000,” Woodson said. “Then you would have approximately $4.3 million left over for capital projects within the district. That could go a long way towards buying the district and the taxpayers time to plan ahead and have a proper study done and plan to eventually replace a 40-year-old high school.”
Woodson concluded his address by asking the board to “consider the bigger picture” about what is facing the county, the district, and the taxpayers, as well as the district’s students and student-athletes. He also suggested that if the board is unwilling to address the issue that it be put before the voters.
“If you as a board are afraid to commit, then I recommend we have a special election and let the taxpayers of Union County decide so that we can finally put this ‘stadium issue’ to rest,” Woodson said. “This discussion has been brought up several times over the years and had a compromise been reached years ago we would be over halfway through the agreement term and would already have a much nicer facility in which to showcase the talents of our student-athletes while improving safety for them as well as the taxpayers and tourists in attendance.”
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090.