ROGERSVILLE — Following a lengthy discussion Thursday evening, the Hawkins County Board of Education postponed a decision to replace Volunteer High School’s football field with artificial turf or new sod.
For the past year, the BOE has been considering a switch to the newer, safer generation of synthetic playing surface at both Volunteer and Cherokee, although only Volunteer’s field has been deemed too unsafe to host games as is.
One thing board members could agree on Thursday, however, was that the Volunteer football team won’t be competing on the football field as is. Director of Schools Matt Hixson told the board that unless the field is repaired, the Falcons will either play all their 2020 games on the road or their home games will be played on another field such as Church Hill Middle’s or Cherokee’s.
The main debate Thursday was whether to use turf similar to what was installed at Dobyns-Bennett High School or to resurface with sod at less than half the cost.
At the conclusion of the discussion, the BOE asked Hixson to research the longevity of the synthetic turf surface, which was originally reported to last about 10 years, but with improvements is now supposedly lasting 18-20 years.
The BOE will reconvene Monday at 10 a.m. to continue the discussion. Time is of the essence for a decision to be made. Assuming school reopens as scheduled in August, which Hixson said is the current plan, games would begin late that month.
The BOE was presented Thursday with two options.
The first involved installation of synthetic turf, which reportedly could be completed within six weeks at Volunteer at an estimated cost not to exceed $593,000.
Hawkins County Schools traditionally spends equally on both main high schools, so if synthetic turf is approved for Volunteer, the proposal was to install an identical surface at Cherokee within 2-3 years at an estimated cost of $605,000.
The second option is to perform a natural resurfacing project on Volunteer’s field at an estimated cost of $240,000. That would involve stripping the grass and topsoil; leveling with the proper grading, crown and slope; inspecting and repairing the irrigation; installing sod; and then fertilizing and strengthening it to the point of use.
The good news for that option is that no additional funds would have to be spent at Cherokee because its field is in excellent condition. The bad news is that there’s a minimum eight-week construction/grass growing timeline before the field could be used — and that’s assuming the weather cooperates perfectly.
BOE Chairman Chris Christian was ready Thursday to propose the synthetic turf option for approval, with the cost to be covered by the budget’s undesignated fund balance.
Hixson noted that there are options to reduce the cost of turf such as a sales tax incentive on the purchase of materials and the opportunity to sell advertising on the field.
However, some board members, including Bob Larkins, Debbie Sheddon and Jackie Charles, said they didn’t have enough information to approve an expenditure of that magnitude.
“Mr. Christian and Mr. (Tecky) Hicks worked with the school team up there to begin work on making that surface once again safe and playable for this upcoming year,” Hixson told the board Thursday. “But, once again because of ongoing drainage issues which have been rectified over the last couple of weeks, as well as rain that we’ve gotten plenty of over the last several months, as well as COVID-19 closure and other circumstance, that field is far from being able to be used.”
Hixson added, “We are really running out of time on both options. We’re nearly to the point where we’re approaching the dire straits as far as time is concerned for grass.”