ROGERSVILLE — With two dissenting votes, the Hawkins County Board of Education approved a motion Monday to spend $1.25 million to pay for installing artificial turf on two football fields — one at Volunteer, which needs field improvements, and one at Cherokee, which doesn't need field improvements.
On Thursday, the BOE had a lengthy discussion about Volunteer's football field, which board members agreed is not safe to be used this fall as is.
That meeting was recessed until Monday morning to give Director of Schools Matt Hixson time to research questions board members had raised about the longevity of artificial turf.
Board Chairman Chris Christian and board member Tecky Hicks have been working with maintenance staff to come up with a long-term solution for Volunteer's football field.
Although some drainage problems have been resolved recently, what they concluded was that the field needs to be completely stripped and resurfaced and cannot be used this fall under its current condition due to concerns for player safety.
The board was presented Thursday with the option of a $240,000 sod renovation that was estimated to take eight weeks under perfect weather conditions.
The other option was a $593,000 artificial turf installation project at Volunteer that is estimated to take six weeks.
When the BOE makes a major capital expenditure at one high school, it matches that effort at the other. That means Cherokee will have to receive artificial turf as well, which is estimated to cost $605,000, despite the fact that by all accounts Cherokee’s field is in excellent condition.
Monday morning, the BOE voted 5-2 to move forward with the $1.25 million expenditure to place artificial turf on both fields.
The project would be paid from general fund savings. A $1.25 million budget amendment setting aside funding for the project is expected to go before the Hawkins County Commission for consideration later this month.
If that is approved, Volunteer's artificial turf installation would begin immediately.
The original proposal was to wait 4-5 years to begin Cherokee's turf project, and on Thursday that was reduced to 3-2.
On Monday, however, the BOE voted 5-2 in favor of board member Judy Trent's motion to begin Cherokee's turf installation next year after sports usage of that field has concluded for the 2020-21 school year.
Board members Bob Larkins and Debbie Shedden voted against the turf project.
Among their concerns were longevity and the timeline in which the school system would eventually be faced with a costly replacement.
Although there was some discussion Thursday about the possibility of artificial surfaces lasting 15-20 years, Hixson told the BOE on Monday that industry guarantees are set at 8-10 years, although the material could hold up a maximum of 12-15 years.
“Because of the UV (ultraviolet) breakdown, which they've not been able to do much about, they said getting 12 years out of a field before testing shows it to be out of tolerance would be the typical lifespan of being able to use the field,” Hixson said. “Does it look decent, does it look nice between 12 and 15? It could. But it starts to deteriorate rapidly at that point.”
Shedden said she spoke to several area school systems that have artificial turf, and Greeneville City recently replaced its turf for $100,000.
But longevity wasn't the only concern of the two board members who were opposed.
Shedden said that based on what she was told by other school systems, expecting to have Volunteer's turf installed by the time school begins Aug. 1 is unrealistic.
Shedden added, “We would have had everything approved, had the cuts made for that field and the order in, and still I don't know that we could get it in on time.”
She also expressed concern about turfing Cherokee.
“We need to make sure of the economic climate at that time,” she said. “We need to make sure that we're going to have the money to support that second school, and we don't know that. … I can't go along with jumping into something this quickly without doing some more due diligence research.”
On Thursday, the BOE also approved a proposed 2020-21 budget that uses $4.7 million in savings to balance. Last month, the BOE voted to close McPheeters Bend Elementary and Keplar Elementary at the end of the 2020-21 school year as a cost-savings measure.
Larkins also expressed concern about making a $1.25 million investment on sports field playing surfaces when they don't even know if school will be in session in August due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Hixson gave the BOE a report Thursday that they are planning regular classes to commence Aug. 1, but there are also contingency plans being formulated in case schools are shut down again.
“We have just made a very important decision to close two schools to save money and better use our resources in Hawkins County and hopefully provide a better quality of education,” Larkins said. “I would like to see a turf field at both schools. Financially, I don't think it's the right time.”