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What Do You Want Done With Grandstands?

School board seeks public input on decision.

The White Salmon Valley School Board is seeking opinions on what to do with almost $1 million that only can be used to build, remodel, replace or repair school facilities.

That money -- of which the district has collected more than $446,000 so far -- is coming from the state as its match for the school district's almost-complete maintenance and transportation center project.

Knowing the money would soon be flowing in, Superintendent Dale Palmer convened the district's facilities committee last fall to begin the process of prioritizing project and funding recommendations.

Palmer presented the committee's list of four priorities to the school board last Thursday.

The recommendations, in order of importance, were:

Demolish and replace the CHS Stadium grandstand, or at least remove the roof and its support system to allow for interim use of the facility, and to reduce district exposure to liability. Cost: unknown.

Re-roof the old section of Wayne M. Henkle Middle School. Cost: approximately $165,000.

Provide the local match for a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant, for expansion of the White Salmon preschool. Cost: $20,000.

Replace floor coverings at various locations throughout Henkle, Whitson Elementary and Columbia High School. Cost: approximately $71,000.

The school board will take public comment on these recommendations -- and other issues -- during a public meeting, which has been set for Tuesday, March, at 7 p.m. in the Columbia High School library.

No action will be taken that night, according to Palmer.

However, the board is expected to discuss public comments and make funding decisions at its March 21 meeting.

During last Thursday's meeting, much of the discussion centered on what to do with the nearly 60-year-old grandstand that provides seating for 1,000 for such athletic events as football in the summer and fall, and track and field and soccer in the spring.

The grandstand was closed Feb. 16 on the advice of two consulting structural engineering firms and will remain so until further notice.

The two independent engineering reports done for the district late last year pointed to the roof and its support structure as the grandstand's main problems.

According to those reports, the roof and support structure don't meet current building code standards. The consulting engineers who performed the analyses recommended the district repair or remove the roof or close the grandstand to all use.

"Legally, we're now in a pickle because we have two professional reports that say we should either close or fix the grandstand," Palmer told the board. "If we continue to use it without doing anything, we could be found intentionally negligent in the event of an accident."

A temporary fix, he said, would be to remove the roof. But, as facilities committee member Alan Newman pointed out, the grandstand -- with its concessions stand and restrooms underneath -- wasn't designed to sit out in weather.

"(Roof removal) is not a recommendation the facilities committee is making," he said. "That's something the engineers came up with as an alternative" to repairing the roof or tearing the grandstand down.

In the meantime, Athletic Director Howard Kreps said the unavailability of the grandstand won't affect the spring sports schedule. He noted contingency plans are being made to provide spectator seating for home track meets and soccer matches.

For track, portable bleachers could be set up on the infield (football field). Those same bleachers could be rearranged on the visitors sideline to furnish seating for soccer.

"We can always find a use for portable bleachers. But when we roll around to the fall, that's a different story," he observed, adding weather conditions and the number of people attending football games point to the eventual need for a covered grandstand.

Board members were convinced by the information they received that the grandstand "is beyond getting fixed," as director Tom Stevenson put it.

"I'm sensitive to putting money where it's going to benefit the greatest number of students, but the grandstand is a serious need now," he observed.

However, he and fellow directors Eric Shrum, Jack Stembridge and Kristie Hurn agreed they wanted to hear from the district's patrons before making any financial commitments.

"We're going to have to do something, but first we need to listen to what the community has to say," Shrum remarked. "If the community says go for it (build a new grandstand), and we have the money, we should move on it as rapidly as we can."

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