A complete overhaul of the Washington High School outdoor athletic/band complex was approved Monday night by the board of education.
The total price tag comes to $2.3 million for a synthetic turf field, spray-on track, new lighting, new visiting side bleachers, fencing, improved ADA accessibility, concrete walkway around the track and an access road, as well as extensive excavation, earthwork and surface prep.
The school board voted unanimously to award a contract to Byrne & Jones Construction, St. Louis, for the project.
The work will get under way quickly with a target completion date of early to mid-September.
Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer said the project is “long overdue” for the deteriorating complex which has become an embarrassment not only to the high school and district, but also the community.
The WHS track team has been forced to utilize other area high schools for its home meets this year due to unsafe track conditions and the annual band festival, which attracts schools from across the state, was in jeopardy because the field is in such bad shape.
The band currently practices in the parking lot and the high school P.E. classes have limited access to the outdoor complex.
VanLeer said the new AstroTurf Gameday grass to be installed will allow the field to be completely multipurpose for use not only by the athletic teams, but also the band, P.E. classes and other classes, and the many community events held at the outdoor complex throughout the year.
Bids for the artificial turf came in very competitively, VanLeer said.
The cost for the turf is $380,000 and the spray-on track has a price tag of $186,000. All of the remaining work is included in the bid price of $1.7 million.
School board President Scott Byrne said bids for the project were opened last Thursday. The next day, a committee of school officials, the district architect and Washington Engineering representatives interviewed the three contractors at length to go over the scope of the work and time line.
“There were many different choices of materials for both the turf and track, different applications and uses for each of the materials and it took a lot of time to go through all of that,” Byrne said. “We spent most of the day interviewing the three contractors.”
Prior to seeking bids, school officials and coaches also took several field trips to see what other schools have in place and talk to athletic directors and coaches about what they liked and didn’t like about their track and field surfaces.
“We did a lot of research and it gets very technical, but it’s important to look at everything and I feel we’ve done that,” said Byrne. “So much of this work is about what’s going underneath the track and field, the infrastructure, and we really looked at that.”
In the end, the Gameday Grass turf seemed to be the best fit for a field that has to be multipurpose, he said, noting other schools typically have several practice fields and space for their bands to practice so they may be able to use a less costly artificial surface.
Byrne said the WHS field is used for so many things outside of sports which was a big consideration in the selection process.
Board member Todd Geisert, who also sat in on the contractor interviews, said he feels very comfortable with the contract being awarded.
“I look at this (the athletic complex) as an outdoor classroom the whole school can use for P.E., assemblies, movies on the field, and band competitions,” he said.
The turf and track to be installed will make the complex usable by all, Geisert added.
Maintenance on the new track and field will be minimal compared to the annual costs for upkeep and repairs the district currently incurs, officials said.
Turf does not require watering, fertilizing or cutting. It will need to be groomed about four times a year and the grooming device is included in the bid, as well as extra granules that will need to be replaced.
The life of the new surface is at least eight years and some can last upward of 12 to 15 years. The track may require restriping after seven years.
VanLeer noted the district currently spends between $20,000 and $30,000 to maintain and repair the current field.
“And that’s for limited use,” she pointed out.
VanLeer said the new and improved complex will address all safety and liability concerns for students, staff and visitors.
The other two bidders were ICS Construction Services Ltd. and A.T.G. Ram Industries, both of whom submitted lower base bids but offered different options for turf and field at varying costs, some higher and some lower.
The selection of Byrne & Jones Construction was based on the options the company offered, as well as their experience with installing track and fields.
Byrne, who is not related to anyone in the company, said the contractor also uses a high number of Franklin County workers for its subcontract work.
VanLeer noted that all of the bids actually came in lower than the project team estimate of $2.6 million.
The project will be funded through one-time monies in the capital projects budget. The district also plans to use the $572,763 it received from Harman Becker in a settlement agreement with the city of Washington over tax payment for the project as well.
“We’re also talking with the athletic association and booster clubs to see how they can partner with us on this too,” said VanLeer, adding the WHS Athletic Association has already agreed to reimburse the district $5,000 for the Blue Jay logo that will go in the center of the field.
The superintendent said she knows there will be critics of the overall project, but noted the work has been discussed for years.
“This is a one-time expense, unlike building a new school which has to be financed over 20 years,” she said.
“With the passage of Question 1 of Prop R earlier this month we are ready to move forward with this work knowing that a new Early Childhood Center, wireless infrastructure, classroom additions at Marthasville and HVAC upgrades at Augusta can be done through the bond issue,” she said. “If we had to pay for that work out of the budget, then the athletic complex project would have been deferred yet again.”
VanLeer said the district is not putting athletics above classrooms, because it is making great instructional improvements through Question 1.
“But we can’t build a new middle school without a bond issue and tax increase and that was voted down,” she said. “It’s time to move forward on what we can do.”
The superintendent also said the project is about restoring pride in the high school.