Wednesday, February 27, 2002
Grandstand loss = opportunity
While unfortunate, the recent decision by Superintendent Dale Palmer to close the grandstand at Columbia High School was the correct one.
The school district recently brought in not one, but two independent structural engineers to look at the aging structure, and both found serious deficiencies.
The primary areas of concern listed were the roof and the support structures of the grandstand. Engineers believe the roof could come off in a high wind, and also believe the wooden support beams, which are resting on concrete, could fail during even a moderate shaking in the event of an earthquake.
Getting the report is probably a blessing, because while the grandstand's closure creates headaches, it also opens up a wonderful opportunity for the school and the community.
Let's face it: That facility, which was built in the 1940s, has long been subpar. The wooden seats are beginning to splinter; the roof, with sheets of tin flapping in the breeze, has become an embarrassment; and the overall structure is really an antique. The fact that the facility is potentially unsafe during high winds and/or an earthquake comes as no surprise.
A replacement facility with a more up to date design has clearly been needed for some time. This situation only adds urgency to taking care of the issue.
The current structure is deficient, and effectively repairing it would apparently cost even more than tearing down the old one and building a new one.
The tentative estimate for repairs to address the key problems is approximately $400,000. Preliminary estimates for a new grandstand range between $300,000-$500,000. The good news is, the school has $440,000 currently on hand that could go toward this project.
Unless school officials believe the school no longer needs a grandstand, there is little room for debate: The time to act is upon us. Delaying work could mean the facility won't be ready for this fall's football season, when it sees the most use.
Given the fact that the grandstand is often packed during football games, track meets, and other school events; and with an estimated 30 events each school year that use the grandstand, the need for a new facility is clear. Indeed, with a new structure, it could be feasible to hold major events such as graduation ceremonies outdoors.
Hopefully the school's planners can come up with an efficient, fast-track plan to get a new stadium in place -- ideally, before autumn. That is a daunting task, but certainly not out of reach.
In fashioning a plan, school officials need to seriously consider expanding the seating capacity to some degree (it currently holds about 1,000). And upgrading the concession facilities and rest rooms ought to be a given.
A new grandstand would be a great boost for CHS and Henkle Middle School teams and students, as well as a source of added community pride. Hopefully school officials will quickly agree on the smoothest and swiftest path to take to get a new structure built as soon as possible. The time has come.