Commissioner Paul Higdon voted no
The Highlands School soccer teams have experienced substantial hurdles over the years due to the state of disrepair of the field at the school.
Officials have skirted around the field’s environmental problems since its inaugural season in the Spring of 2009.
With record rainfall this past year, the field couldn’t drain between rain events and games, which meant the field couldn’t be used for practice, games, or PE.
During the joint meeting with the Macon County Board of Commissioners and Macon County Board of Education, Jeff Weller a parent, retired soccer coach and an architect who has been involved with the field since it was first designed, spoke about the drainage issues on the field and what needed to occur to fix it.
Weller told county leaders that the 100-125 inches of rain that fell during the Fall soccer season caused the field to be water-logged and resulted in games being cancelled or home games moved to other schools.
In addition, during the spring girls soccer season, games are often cancelled or rescheduled because as the temperatures cool, the field freezes, resulting in the field turning into a skating rink.
Prior to the field’s construction, soccer practices were held on a small open area at the school’s track field and all “home” games were played at Macon Middle School in Franklin.
The first boys’ soccer team at Highlands School came in the mid-1990s. The first varsity girls season started in the early 2000s.
Weller explained that the only way Highlands can continue to host home soccer matchups and use the field for practice is to repair the existing field, which is expected to cost just shy of $900,000.
While the Buck Creek recreation area has a soccer field, the field isn’t regulation-size for competition play. State regulations require a minimum length of 100 yards by 50 yards wide.
The area behind the school was a pond long ago which meant water problems, but it could fit a field 108 yards long by 55 yards wide.
To deal with the inherent water problem, a “herringbone” drainage system was constructed under the entire field. In addition, the field was sloped for surface drainage but rain and drainage continued to cause problems. To fix them, Highlands School is asking the county to fund the replacement of the field grass with turf.
Commissioner Paul Higdon said the Highlands soccer field was not part of the school system’s capital outlay request, therefore he could not support it.
Highlands School Board member Hilary Wilkes explained that the issue couldn’t have been part of the capital outlay request, because that request was made prior to the current issues as this year’s record rainfall was unprecedented.
School Board Chairman Jim Breedlove agreed with Wilkes and said they were not aware of the significant issue at the time of the original capital outlay request and now that they are aware of the issue the school system wants to prioritize the repair — and if action is not taken now, the school is looking at missing two additional seasons of home games and field use.
Higdon said such a request should be included as part of the county’s annual budget process instead of coming up mid-year after the budget is finalized.
However, county leaders noted that factors such as rainfall cannot be controlled by the county and issues arise throughout the year, which is why the county has a contingency budget — which by definition is developed to provide funding in case of events or circumstances that cannot be predicted with certainty, are unforeseen and serve as an incidental expense.
Each year, the Macon County Board of Education holds a meeting to prioritize capital expenditures for Macon County Schools. Each school sends in a “wish list” of projects to the board, and then the school board evaluates each item and prioritizes the requests for county consideration.
In addition to that meeting, a Joint Facilities Review Committee meets regularly and discusses school system building and facility needs. The school board is responsible for identifying needs within the school system and those needs are presented to Macon County Commissioners for consideration as the county is responsible for funding the needs identified by the school board. Both groups discussed the need for turf on the Highlands field and the school board made the recommendation to commissioners for the project.
Commissioner Josh Young said he agrees there is a need for turf, but he wants to be sure that whatever company puts turf on the field warrants the work so the county isn’t spending money on something that might fail down the road.
Macon County Manager Derek Roland asked commissioners how they would like to move forward at which time Commissioner Young made a motion to put the project out to bid so companies could submit plans and cost estimates.
Although Young’s motion did not include anything other than getting cost proposals from companies for consideration, Commissioner Higdon voted against the motion.
“I will not be supporting anything that was not included in the capital improvement plan until we can have a smaller meeting, with less people, take out the emotions, and prioritize capital improvement spending for our educational facilities in Macon County,” he said.
Nevertheless, commissioners voted 4-1 to solicit bids for the Highlands soccer field turf resurfacing project, with Commissioner Higdon voting against the measure.
By Brittney Lofthouse, The Southern Scoop