The Union County Yellow Jackets’ first home football game is scheduled for Aug. 31 against Gaffney, but whether or not the game will be played at Union County stadium is now up for debate.
During the last school year, the Union County School District rented the Union County Stadium — for home football games and a graduation ceremony — for $45,000.
In late June, Union County Council had a committee meeting and forwarded the school district notes from the meeting. It was suggested that the district rent the stadium for the upcoming school year at a price of $95,000 — a $50,000 increase — as had been the agreement in years past. Superintendent Dr. Kristi Woodall said the district questioned that proposal because the stadium is used by the district less now than it was during the time the district was paying $95,000.
“We asked what we were getting in exchange for a $50,000 increase,” Woodall said.
Union County also offered an alternative, which was for the district to lease the stadium for $1 and assume responsibility for the maintenance and operation.
On July 10, Union County Airport and Stadium Director Ronnie Wade reported to the Union County Council on negotiations between the county and the school district over the future of the stadium.
“The idea was that the school system could either take over maintenance of the facility and rent it for a dollar a year or they could help with the expenses and let us continue to operate it like we are now,” Wade said at the meeting.
But what about the $50,000 increase in rent?
The district called in attorneys, consultants, architects and engineers to complete inspections and advise them as to whether leasing was an option. After completing a full report, engineering consultants explained that leasing was not an option.
Although inspectors found no situation at the stadium that was an imminent danger, the stadium does not meet 2012 codes for school districts, and it would need to do so for the district to assume a lease. If the district rents the stadium from the county and it is up to code for the county’s standards, the district could use the stadium as is. However, for the district to assume a lease, the stadium would have to be brought up to the 2012 codes of the South Carolina Department of Education’s Office of School Facilities.
“One dollar equals multi-millions for us,” Woodall said. “The bottom line of the stadium use is that when it was built, it met code, and the county has been grandfathered for codes, but if we assume it for one dollar, it becomes a multi-million dollar project for us to bring it to 2012 codes and Office of School Facility codes. We have an outside body that oversees our standard of facilities. We’re not grandfathered.”
To bring the stadium up to the Office of School Facility codes, work would have to be done to meet ADA (American Disabilities Act) compliance, as well as construction involving restrooms, visitor stands and kitchen equipment.
“Those aren’t opinions from the superintendent or other employees of the district or the school board members,” Woodall said. “Those are facts that we paid for with outside consulting and engineering firms.”
Woodall pointed out that if the district had decided to go with the one-dollar lease option, the Yellow Jackets would not be able to play there anyway because the district would immediately have to go into construction.
“So paying $1 is not an option for our school district because it’s not $1; it’s multi-millions,” Woodall said.
This led the district to respond to the county with a counter offer.
“We want to rent for the same terms as last year,” Woodall said. “We have a mutual agreement. We allow them to use fields of ours and facilities of ours for $1 or no charge. “We are willing to split — again — the gates when allowable at Timken (Sports Complex) and concessions and rent the stadium for home varsity games and graduation for $45,000.”
The report from the inspections paid for by the school district was submitted to Union County Supervisor Tommy Sinclair to pass along to the county council. Sinclair said the council will digest the report at Tuesday’s meeting.
What if they say no?
If the council refuses the school district’s counter offer of renting the stadium at the same price as last year, the Yellow Jackets will have to play home games at a neutral site.
“The Office of School Facilities would not approve the UCHS structure (where JV games are played) for 6,000 fans, and we couldn’t get it up to code in two weeks,” Woodall said. “Of course we would prefer to play in Union and rent the county stadium.”
Woodall also mentioned that no other existing facility in Union County — such as former school fields — would be up to code for home games.
“It’s a complicated process,” Woodall said. “To build baseball and softball practice fields is a complicated process, and those aren’t game fields.”
Woodall also mentioned that she has asked around at school districts in this area of the state and has not found any school district that is required to rent from another governmental agency.
“It’s usually either shared or $1 because one tax base paid for all those facilities, so there is no exchange of money unless there are bills specific to power, field prep, etc.,” she said.
The Union County Council will discuss the issue at its next meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 14, in the Grand Jury Room at the Union County Courthouse. The public is invited and any persons requiring special assistance to attend should contact the County Supervisor’s office 48 hours prior to the meeting.