ROGERSVILLE — Following an hourlong debate Monday, the Hawkins County Commission voted 13-8 in favor of a $1.25 million school board budget amendment to install artificial turf on both high school football fields.
The installation will take place this summer at Volunteer High School, which has a football field that has been deemed unsafe and unusable in its current condition.
Director of Schools Matt Hixson told the Times News Tuesday that the turf company, Baseline Sports, has assured the BOE that barring any major issues with weather it can have Volunteer’s field ready to go on time for the upcoming football season.
“As soon as I sign the contract, they will begin work,” Hixson added. “Could be as early as today (Tuesday).”
The installation of Cherokee’s field will begin as soon as the 2020 football season is over.
The funds will be drawn from school savings as part of the 2019-20 fiscal year budget.
“This has been a long time coming”
There have been problems with the Volunteer field since it was constructed in 1980.
Commissioner Keith Gibson, who was on the original coaching staff at the school, said the field was built over caverns and has experienced settling problems for 40 years.
This past year the Board of Education addressed drainage issues which created pooling in various parts of the field.
Hixson told the commission that although the drainage problems are now repaired, the combination of rainy weather and the COVID-19 shutdown prevented work from taking place that would have made the field’s natural surface playable this fall.
The BOE was presented a natural surface alternative to turf for $240,000, but it would have taken eight weeks if the weather were perfect. The BOE voted 5-2 in favor of turf.
“This has been a long time coming,” Hixson said of Volunteer’s field. “It’s not a coach’s fault for the field condition. It is not the staff’s fault. … It is believed that the drainage had been collapsed for many years prior to me coming.”
Hixson added, “As I’m reminded every single year since I moved here, we’ve had abnormal amounts of rain. Those water issues have destroyed that field.”
The drains have been replaced with PVC and will properly drain the water from artificial turf, Hixson added.
“Everybody is for this turf”
Student, parents and coaches from not only the football teams, but soccer teams and band as well, packed the commission room Monday to show their support for the artificial turf projects.
April Hill, who addressed the commission representing the Volunteer High School contingent, expressed concern about travel expenses if the Falcons had to play all 10 games as an away team this coming season if the field isn’t playable.
She also noted that fundraising for the band will be affected because the bandf won’t be able to collect funds from home game concessions.
Hill identified senior football players in the audience and had them stand.
“Is it fair for them not to have senior night on their home field?” Hill asked the commission. “They make their grades. They do what they need to do to play football.”
Hill added, “We’ve got football players out in the (courthouse) hall, soccer players, band members. Everybody is for this turf. Their education is worth it. They’re our future. You all played on your home (field) when you played, if you played football. These boys deserve that opportunity as well.”
Cherokee football coach supports artificial turf
One argument against the budget amendment was the installation of artificial turf at Cherokee as well, which more than doubles the expenditure to replace a natural field that is in good condition.
Cherokee football coach Cody Baugh told the commission that although a lot of people put a lot of time and effort into keeping the Chiefs’ field in good shape, he is in favor of artificial turf.
Baugh noted that less maintenance time required for turf would allow him and his staff to spend more time with their families and save a lot of money spent on field maintenance.
Baugh said new turf at Cherokee would not only benefit the football team, but baseball and softball in the spring, NJROTC, physical education classes, soccer, band competitions, and events for the middle and elementary “feeder” schools.
“There are so many endless opportunities that can be taken care of on that field,” Baugh said. “It’s something that needs to happen on both ends of the county.”
Offsetting the cost with sponsorship
Hixson told the commission his goal is to greatly reduce the amount of money taken from savings to pay for these projects through sponsorship and donations, as well as utilizing the school system’s tax-free status in purchasing construction materials.
During discussions last year about installing turf at Volunteer, there was a corporate pledge to contribute $500,000 toward the project, Hixson noted.
Turf also creates an annual field maintenance savings of $50,000, which would be set aside to pay for turf maintenance, as well as turf replacement, which would take place about every 10-15 years at an approximate cost of $100,000 per field.
Opposition on the county commission
Despite a massive showing of support in the audience, several commissioners weren’t supportive of artificial turf. Among them were Valerie Goins, who questioned Hixson extensively about the purchase.
Goins expressed concern about the quick timeline of the turf project, as well as the cost — especially in light of the possibility that schools won’t be open due to COVID-19. She noted that eliminating teacher raises while spending this much money sends the wrong signal.
“I feel this sends the signal that we’re more interested in our football fields than we are our teachers’ salaries,” Goins said. “I know how much they (teachers) spend out of pocket every year. It’s a lot.”
“They want to play on their home field”
Commissioner Rick Brewer said that if commissioners vote “no for the turf, it’s saying to football players, ‘you all don’t matter any more.’ ”
“These players are looking forward to their senior season, and I know that they want to play on their home field,” Brewer said. “If you’re worried about taking the heat, the school board has done stepped up and said, ‘We’re going to do this.’ All we’re doing is just approving the amendment. Everybody who called me against this, I told them you need to talk to your school board member.”
Commissioners who voted against the turf included Goins, Jeff Barrett, Dawson Fields, Mike Herrell, Hannah Speaks, Donny Tally, Charlie Thacker and Charles Housewright.