School board deliberates on turf project

Henry County Director of Schools Leah Watkins is pictured Thursday afternoon showing a concept plan for the athletic facility that was built at Inman School, which has been used as a comparison for potential ideas for a new baseball facility and concession stand that the Henry County Board of Education is continuing to explore. Seated is Maureen Thompson, board secretary.

The Henry County Board of Education is ready to proceed with putting in a synthetic turf at Henry County High School’s Patriot Stadium, after the project had been paused for about eight months.

The project will include adding asphalt to create a new four-lane running track and fixing drainage lines that have caused issues with standing water on the football field.

In back-to-back meetings Thursday, the county school board and the Henry County School System’s Grounds and Facilities Committee approved ending the delay and agreed to continue the project that has been on hold since May 2020.

The project was originally approved in February 2020 but was put on hold because of COVID-19.

About 14 bids for different parts of the project were being reviewed by the board before the delay. Director of Schools Leah Watkins said the board plans to accept some of those bids, with the exception of ones for fencing around the field. The board will hold off on adding the fencing, in hopes that it will receive some local bids.

“The goal right now is to be able to use the field for this year’s graduation. We hope to have one or two layers of asphalt laid for the track by then and we’ll need to have the drainage lines fixed as well,” said Watkins.

The process will include removing the existing surface on the field, undercutting the current turf base and adding new soil and layering the field with a synthetic turf on the surface. Curbing and concrete around the field will be fixed along with old drains where the ground has caved in, near where an ambulance is usually stationed during football games.

This will prevent water from pouring down onto the field, which has caused the track to erode and crumble, creating what Watkins called, in essence, a swamp.

The board hopes that the new field will provide good conditions to potentially host band competitions, soccer matches and future community events.

The new track will have four lanes that are regulation size. Watkins said it will be great to give HCHS track athletes a place to practice and run on a surface that matches what is used in track meets.

“Right now these kids don’t have any tracks in the county where they can practice on the same surface that they use for track meets. A lot of the track athletes go out of the county to places like Huntingdon to run on what’s used for track meets,” said Watkins.

The new track will not have enough lanes to be used for official track meets but Watkins hopes that HCHS may be able to host mini-meets on it in the future.

Funding is in place for the project, with the exception of stations for high jump and pole vaulting. The board decided to pull back those parts of the project for now.

In other meeting business:

• Watkins announced an investment of $3.5 million by the federal government into the school system. Those CARES Act funds are being called Elementary & Secondary School Relief Funding 2.0. The funds are to address learning loss as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and needs for the school system.

Watkins said the board has to write out a spending plan for the funds, with the possibility of using them to revive the county summer school program. The funds will apparently be accessible through September 2023 and a timetable was not given for when the board can begin using the funds.

• The board approved the installation of 12-inch lettering inside of Gamlin Gymnasium that will spell out the name of the late HCHS basketball coach Fred Gamlin. John Akers, maintenance supervisor for the school system, said the lettering will be put above the press box.

• The board will continue to explore its options for renovating the concession stand at Patriot Stadium. The possibility of a new baseball facility at HCHS, which has been lobbied for by athletic boosters and coaches, is becoming a more prospective idea. Watkins said she wants to do some more work and continue exploring the most efficient ways to make these projects something the community can be proud of. That could include combining a concession stand and baseball ideas to eventually create something that could potentially be used as a multi-sport facility.

• Watkins said the school system will be receiving a support donation from the Plus Endowment Act that will be used to expand Wi-Fi in school parking lots and to help get cooking classes at Henry School off the ground.

• This was the first meeting for new board member Stan Dunagan, who was elected Dec. 21 by the Henry County Commission to fill a vacant seat on the county school board. He replaces Josh Frey as 2nd District representative.

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