ROGERSVILLE — Although the cost of sports field upkeep is usually left to the individual school, one Hawkins County school board member said Thursday the condition of Volunteer High School's football field is bad enough to make an exception.
There was an extensive discussion during Thursday's Board of Education meeting regarding the prospect of installing artificial surface at both high school football fields.
Although there was a general consensus that the improved safety and injury prevention aspects of an artificial surface makes the project highly desirable, the board has also stated that no county funds will be used to pay the cost, which has been projected between $1.3 and $1.6 million.
Although there are fundraising options under consideration, they wouldn't have time to install artificial turf for the 2019 football season, even if they had the money today.
“Rough and unsafe”
District 2 board member Chris Christian, who represents the Church Hill area, said Volunteer's football surface is currently “rough” and “unsafe.”
Cherokee has invested school funds and received donations of sand for the maintenance of its football field, and the condition of Cherokee's field is not an issue.
Director of Schools Matt Hixson said he doesn't believe Volunteer has had the same level of community donations for upkeep of its field.
“If it presents a safety hazard to our students, it will be fixed prior to their use,” Hixson said.
Christian made a motion to use county funds to repair Volunteer's field immediately because the field creates a liability issue for the county school system.
It needs a plumbing repair so that it can be watered, as well as fertilizer and seed, Christian said.
“Consistent in our practices”
Hixson noted that spending county funds on an item that has traditionally been paid with school funds might create a precedent.
In the proposed 2019-20 school budget, there was $50,000 earmarked specifically for sports facility improvements, with expenditures and projects to be determined by the Central Office.
“I do want to make sure we're consistent in our practices because if we start centralizing maintenance of those school facilities, we probably set ourselves up for continuing that practice,” Hixson said. “I would caution we don't go down that road. … If it's going to impact the general fund much, I would suggest that their (Volunteer’s) allocation of that $50,000 may be identified for this upcoming year to help offset that cost.”
Christian agreed to withdraw his motion. The maintenance department will repair the plumbing, and then a plan for repairing the field will be developed. Board Chairman Bob Larkins asked for a progress report to be made to the board at its July 11 meeting.
Fundraising options for artificial turf
The estimated cost of artificial turf for both fields, playing surface only is $1,313,715 including engineering and design.
For all areas inside the track the cost would increase to $1,628,750.
There are three primary sources proposed for artificial turf fundraising.
One is selling advertising on the new turf and/or around the stadiums.
The second option is a proposal for county residents to make a voluntary donation of $1 to $5 per month on their water bills toward the turf project. Multiple water utilities in the county are considering the possibility of making that contribution available via their billing system.
The voluntary water bill donations would be an ongoing venture because they would first have to pay for the initial installation cost and then pay for the turf replacement, which would take place approximately every 10 years.
The third option is corporate donations. Home Depot had reportedly pledged $500,000 toward the turf project, although there is no signed contract as of yet associated with that proposed donation.
“It's a very expensive proposition”
“We wouldn't proceed unless we had 100 percent funding available for the project, so that it doesn't impact our operational budget” Hixson told the board.
Christian said he'd like to help facilitate the formation of a private nonprofit organization to help collect and manage contributions for the turf project.
Anyone interested in helping create a nonprofit foundation can email Christian at email@example.com. Christian said he wouldn't be part of the foundation but he would be willing to bring together the coaches, donors and foundation volunteers so they can work together toward this project.
“Therefore people will know where to send the money, who is managing the money and what the money is going for, so we can start building on that now,” Christian said.
Larkins asked that the coaches come before the BOE at its July 11 meeting and give an update on the status of the various fundraising options.
“It's a very expensive proposition, and in these days and times when we have major issues to address, the board will be very careful about spending any county money on these (turf) matters,” Larkins said. “At the same time we're excited about the possibility of it, but we must be realistic and pragmatic about it, too.”