Elizabethton school committee weighs new vs. old school stadium

John Thompson • Sep 27, 2013 at 2:16 PM

ELIZABETHTON — A committee established to gather information on costs and the feasibility of three capital projects for the Elizabethton City School Board held its first meeting on Thursday afternoon in the board room.

School Board Chairwoman Rita Booher said the committee “is just putting the numbers together for the board. It is work the board could do, but it will take time.”

The committee has several boundaries to focus its work. It is considering three projects that were designated by the school board during its April 2011 meeting. Those are: a band room and choral room at Elizabethton High School, an eight-classroom addition at T.A. Dugger Junior High School and an athletic complex at Elizabethton High School.

The City Council has already approved $5 million in bonds to fund the projects. Additional donations are being sought from individuals and corporations.

Architect Tom Weems gave a report on his plans for each project. One of the most controversial points is whether the addition at T.A. Dugger can be accomplished without removing the home stands from nearby Brown-Childress Stadium, the traditional football field for the high school for more than 50 years.

Weems said his design for the classroom addition required the home stands to be removed because of state fire codes. Even though a fire-sprinkling system will be placed in the new addition, there are no fire sprinklers in the older part of the school. The state considers the entire building to be without a sprinkler system. That means a wall that can withstand flames for two hours is needed and windows could not provide a second exit in an emergency.

Board member Catherine Armstrong, who has long called for renovations of Brown-Childress rather than a new football field, asked Weems about locating the addition in other sections that would not abut the stands.

Weems said the proposed location made sense because it placed four new bathrooms in the center of the school and cleared up several compliance problems with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“It all comes down to money,” Weems said. “This is the best version.”

City Council member Richard Tester said another concern is the deterioration of the home stands. Weems said the cost of renovations is about 2.5 times the cost of new construction.

Ed O’Hara of CHA Sports, the company that directed the building of the new stadium at Science Hill High School, discussed the many decisions that will decide the cost of a new football field, including seating, quality of turf and surface, lighting, scoreboard, restrooms and concessions.

Mike Wilson, athletic director for the school, said the stadium would require 3,500 seats to meet demand and provide revenue for other sports and at least two concession stands with deep dimensions to meet the fundraising needs of the band.

Armstrong said there did not appear to be much room between the edge of the proposed stadium and the Boys and Girls Club. She asked if it would fit. Weems said there was 10 feet to the property line.

There was not a lot of discussion on the plans for the band room, but Booher said it was the project in which the costs are fairly certain. She said there are a lot of variables with the T.A. Dugger addition. At this point in the investigation, she said the costs of the football stadium are unknown.

Isaacs said there it is highly likely that there will not be enough money to do all three projects.

“It is going to be hard to complete two of the projects. It is going to be hard to meet everyone’s expectations,” school board member Phil Isaacs said.

Mayor Curt Alexander said he wanted the school board to avoid over-committing the revenue from the half-cent sales tax dedicated to school capital projects, leaving some for emergencies. Even so, he said some of the first round of capital bonds will be maturing and additional funds will then be available several years from now.

“This is your money, it comes from the sales tax and we can’t tell you how to spend it,” Alexander said.

Booher agreed, saying there would be money available to eventually complete all the projects.

Joe LaPorte, chief executive officer of Citizens Bank, urged the members of the committee to visit the new stadium at Science Hill.

“At first, I thought they should keep Spurrier Field. There is so much history there,” LaPorte said. Then he saw the new stadium and said “wow, this is impressive.”

He saw similarities with Brown-Childress. “If you spend a million on Brown-Childress, you still have an old stadium,” LaPorte said.

The committee will meet again on Oct. 10, the day before a called meeting of the board.

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