Board Votes To Purchase Property for HHS Baseball Field
The Wetzel County Board of Education has voted, 4-1, to purchase property in Hundred. The Hundred High School Executive Boosters hopes this property, owned by Ron Hayhurst, can serve as the location of Hundred High School’s baseball complex.
The HHS Executive Boosters is currently headed by Nick Eastham, president; and Mike Geho, vice-president.
The vote in favor of the purchase occurred at the Feb. 5 regular meeting of the board, and it did not come without some thorough discussion. Ron Dennis, HHS’ baseball coach, appeared at the meeting with members of the HHS Executive Boosters and other concerned parents, who were in favor of a proposed purchase by the board.
Dennis said he had previously served as HHS’ head baseball coach for several years, and he is back to serve as head coach for this year. He said he wanted to talk to the board about a need, not a want. Dennis said he has a baseball team for the 2018 season, but no baseball field. He said the baseball team was unable to play any home games last year, due to the fact that HHS’ football field was undergoing renovations.
“If you remember last June, Myron Seese, Nate Huggins and I all appeared before you then about the placement of the new bleachers on the football field,” Dennis said.
“I had said that however we come out on the end of this, we needed to have a baseball field Right now we don’t have a field.”
Dennis explained the placement of the bleachers on the football field does not allow enough distance to play baseball.
Dennis said the Ron Hayhurst property could allow space for a baseball field, softball field, track facilities, and more.
Dennis said the boosters was not asking for anything else that any other school doesn’t have.
“I don’t think it is fair to our kids, to our parents, to get on a bus 25 times. Clay-Battelle High School is graciously going to allow us to play home games on their field this year. That is the closest place we can go to play.
Dennis said he has 20-21 players that want to play baseball.
“Our youth program is strong. This isn’t something that is going to disappear. We want to build a program, but we need your help.”
Dennis said he had previously met with two board members and Superintendent Ed Toman.
“There seems to be no other solution,” Dennis said to HHS’ baseball field predicament.
“If any other board member could give me another solution, I’d gladly listen. We all would, but it seems this is our only viable option right now. So, I’m asking you tonight for a favorable vote to buy this property, so Hundred High School can have a baseball field, softball field, and track facilities.”
Dennis said the boosters had found companies and people who would provide time and resources to build the athletic complex.
“We don’t expect this to be done in a year. We know this will take time, but we can’t move forward until we have the property.”
Dennis said he would love to go back to the school the following day and report a 5-0 vote, in favor of purchasing the property, and that the entire board supported the students of Hundred High School.
Mike Blair said the board was in the business for the youth; however, he noted, the board already had Hundred High School football field “that is a mess, that will take more than $1 million dollars to fix.” Blair also referenced necessary repairs at Valley High School, that would cost an estimated $1 million. He said a HHS baseball field venture would cost several more hundred thousand.
“And now we will take on another complex. Then we get a letter that says our tax collections are down. Then, we get School Digger reports that we’ve dropped in the state to 49th. I think if we are going to spend money, we need to spend money in the right places. I support doing the right things for kids, but we need to support their education. We are in the business for education, and we are sitting here, and you know, you make an enemy and you make a friend, but I’m here to make a difference.”
Blair had referenced a popular website, SchoolDigger.com, which ranks schools across the United States. According to its website, SchoolDigger.com’s database “contains detailed profiles for over 136,000 schools in every state including 20 years of enrollment data, several years of test scores, crime data, real estate data” According to SchoolDigger.com, Wetzel County Schools supposedly ranks 49th out of 55 West Virginia districts.
“I don’t think our investment in real estate is the right investment for our kids,” Blair noted t o the board.
“I probably educated students on the baseball field as much as I did in the classroom,” said Dennis in response.
“I think the lessons learned there are very important also.”
Blair agreed, noting he had worked with MHS Baseball Coach Dave Cisar, and received a strong education there.
“We need to focus our efforts to do what is right for kids, to give them what they need, but I have a hard time leaving the education part of that behind We haven’t gone anywhere but backward.”
Board President Warren Grace expressed criticism of the School Digger rankings, saying he felt like Wetzel was above many school systems. “I can take you to some county school systems that aren’t even comparable to Wetzel County Schools… not just one or two; I can take you to dozens.”
Grace said he doesn’t know where School Digger gets its information.
“What is School Digger? How is it based? What is it based on?” Grace said.
Blair argued that people still utilize School Digger for rankings. He asked Grace how he would like to measure success of schools.
Grace said he felt a good measure of student achievement was how kids perform at the next level, beyond high school and at a college-level.
“We are trying to do our part,” Dennis said, regarding the proposed baseball field. “We don’t expect you to build us a $2 million facility down there.”
Dennis explained the current field is not big enough for baseball; he said that, even to play softball or little league on the field, there would need to be protective fencing, due to the placement of the bleachers.
“We need to design things, when the water comes and damages it we need to plan and value our loss,” Blair said, bringing forth another point.
“Let’s talk about three attendance areas that has to do that Magnolia gets hit, Hundred gets hit, and Valley gets hit We know what we lose; it’s an expense to taxpayers every time it happens,” he added.
Dennis asked if the board receives FEMA funding, and Blair noted that the board does, but there is a very high premium.
Board Vice President Bill Jones said that, as a board member, there is an obligation to be a good steward, “but we have another obligation to serve the youth of this county, and wherever that might be. If we do not address this problem, we have relegated baseball to its early death. There is nowhere to do it. You can’t continue to go to Clay-Battelle to play home games. You need a facility.”
Jones said the board had the opportunity, with the information they had been given by the boosters, “to involve a lot of people in a project we have not gone after.”
“We said, at the meeting (with the boosters), there would need to be a memorandum of understanding.”
Jones said the board looked at the Ron Hayhurst property. “The original price he wanted was $100,000. In negotiations with him, he came down to $80,000. I don’t know how many people know this, but I had received information from Ron Hayhurst that, if we go through this, and if we name this after the Hayhurst family, which is no problem at all, there will be a substantial amount of money coming back to the boosters club.”
Jones said he knows Ron Hayhurst and how important the Town of Hundred is to Hayhurst family.
“He’s taken a $20,000 loss on this to start with, because I know what he paid for it.”
Board member Joshua Balcerek said he needed more details on the proposed purchase and upgrades. He said he felt, currently, like he was going to be voting on an “idea.” He said with other school purchases such as locker rooms and meat labs — the board had received quotes prior to making a vote.
Jones then said he wanted to take the opportunity to talk about the boosters club at Hundred. He said, previously, the boosters club had fizzled out, due to mismanagement. He said the new boosters club helps the entire school “and whatever projects they have going.”
Jones said since March 2017, when the boosters had organized, they had raised $20,000. He said he appreciated the boosters’ honesty in where the money is spent. He said the boosters is organized and responsible. “The things you have done are just fantastic.”
Jones then reported that when the board members recently met with the boosters, the boosters had been told that the board would need some sort of memorandum of understanding, to get the details. He then read the memorandum. The memorandum stated that, for the purpose of developing the property, the HHS Executive Boosters would offer assistance in developing the site. Assistance would include construction management, design and engineering, sitework, and limited materials.
The memo stated the boosters would have a project committee and would source local vendors, and would provide labor and services for improvements. along with design drawings, etc.
Per the memorandum, the board would purchase the site and provide funding for improvements.
“I think that is where you guys are at now,” Jones said to the boosters.
Jones said he knows the members of the boosters and can speak to their characters.
“We have great people who are capable of doing great things.”
Grace said he felt the meeting with the boosters was positive, and he said he had great confidence in the endeavor.
“We are extremely limited in land for a baseball or softball field, and that is what the issue comes down to, is where.”
He said there would be some landscaping work involved, to make the field appropriate for playing baseball, but “I appreciate you guys (the boosters), stepping up and willing to help.”
Grace said he felt the least the board could do is purchase the land.
Nate Huggins, who has helped with the design work of the project, reported that there would be some minimal grading work involved with the field. He said the way the field is positioned, putting home plate by the road would minimize damages from possible flooding.
He said, as far as grading, one individual has offered free labor for the task.
Huggins felt, after the grading, fencing could be added. Games could possibly be played then.
Huggins said if action wasn’t taken on the matter, the boosters risked losing donations and offers of help, and the community would lose faith that the baseball field project could happen.
Balcerek asked how many acres were needed for the field. It was noted that eight acres would be needed. Balcerek then asked if the board could only purchase the land needed, and Jones said this wasn’t a possibility, as the matter had already been discussed. Balcerek expressed concerns with liability issues stemming from the extra acreage.
Superintendent Ed Toman then noted that most of the parents present that evening were middle school parents. He expressed optimism in that fact, as it showed that the baseball field would be used in the upcoming years.
At that point, Jones made a motion the board purchase the Hayhurst property and work with the “local group in Hundred to get us a baseball field.”
Grace seconded the motion.
Blair noted that he didn’t know if the board could make a motion on the matter, as the agenda said “discussion.”
Grace responded that the agenda also said “possible action.”
“For the record,” Blair began, “in my 16 years on this board, I have favored all four attendance areas the best way I know how. I want the minutes to reflect that if we support this group in Hundred, this board needs to be prepared to accept any requests made from the other attendance areas, on major projects, as well, to meet the requirement of all youth in this county. If we are all ready to beckon that call, I’m all ready to vote.
Balcerek said he wanted more information before he voted.
Board member Amy Cooley described the situation as a double-edged sword. She said the board was voting on something in which they don’t have all the information. However, she said, the group can’t proceed without the confirmation. “To me, it is a hard thing.”
Both Cooley and Blair said they agreed that the baseball field is needed. Cooley said she was concerned about the remaining approximate 30 acres that would not be utilized for the field “and the liability there.”
“I know you also have plans and ideas for down the road,” she said to the boosters, regarding plans for expanding to a track facility.
Balcerek said he would like to table the issue until there is more information.
Blair reiterated that the memorandum said the board would provide the property and funding for the projects.
“The money to create the field will be our expense, as well as the purchase of the property. They will support in any way they can, with labor and limited amount of materials We are talking an investment. It is the right investment for kids. No argument for me on that part. That needs to be perfectly clear. I’m trying to look at an educational standpoint throwing money at real estate and things”
Balcerek said he felt it was good that the community was involved and local companies were offering aid. “That means a lot,” he said.
Cooley asked the boosters how the situation would be accepted if the property was bought, but the project ended up costing more than what the board anticipated.
Earlier that evening, Treasurer Jeff Lancaster had told the board that property tax collections were lower, compared to last year. Cooley cited this conversation in her discussion. “With our projected figures being lower than we are expecting, if it becomes a longer process is that still accepted, even though it is in the works?”
Huggins said he felt there was no other option, and that, currently, baseball might even be possible on the field this year, as it is flat land.
“If that came to that, we could figure a way to play. At least we have the space to start. Electric and water is already there. But we have to have a place to go,” Huggins said. “That is where we stand That is where I stand.”
Jones said in talking to the boosters, “they aren’t looking for Taj Mahal. They are looking for a place to play baseball If we start with a flat field, and a backstop, and a fence around it that is where we start.”
Mike Geho, HHS Boosters’ vice president, said he realizes the project is multi-year. “Improvements for this piece of project it will take time. We understand that.”
“There aren’t a lot of specifics in the letter of intent, but we did that to let you know where we, as a booster organization, are coming from, and what we plan to do. It is always our intent to under promise and over deliver.”
Geho said the boosters organized early last year and “did that in a proper manner. We were organized as a 501c3, according to guidelines.”
“Yet saying that, we are not a multi-faceted construction firm, but we have a lot of talent in the community I’m familiar with the scope of the project, and by no means do I think we are taking on more than we can handle. Number one, the real estate by itself is cheap. It’s an opportunity, because it is a good laying piece of land; it has a lot of potential for a number of things in the Hundred area, academically and athletically. We have the people that can get the ball rolling with minimal improvements to begin with, and as time goes on, we’ll improve on it. I’m sure Nathan is prepared to give you a tentative master plan, where the fields would be placed with some long-term improvements.”
Of the current boosters group, Myron Seese said he has never seen a group like the current one. “They have the expertise; they have the talent, and they have the willingness. The community of Hundred is proud of them. I want to let you know, it may be purchasing real estate, but what have the other schools done when they have gotten complexes. What other school doesn’t have their own baseball field? I don’t know of anyone. Why should we be the one that doesn’t have a baseball field, or softball field I think it’s a very good investment.”
“As far as reliability and other cost, I’m not worried about it. It’s going to be work, but they will do it. They are going to raise the money. Volunteer labor they will do it. But from my standpoint, of being associated with Hundred High School, this group there is no question.”
Eastham said he wanted to reiterate that the community sees what is going on.
“If you move forward with a new facility, they will support us. They will see we are moving forward. If we don’t move forward, they won’t support us. We can’t put money in renovating a field and come out less than what we start with, that’s upside down. I’m not blaming anybody, but we have to progress. We have to make an investment, and we have to move forward.”
Jones had said he wanted to ask Mr. Toman if the board is in line to do something that is right, referencing Blair’s concerns with the wording of the agenda item. “Do we need to put this off for another time. Where it says ‘possible action'”
Toman said he could check with the board’s attorney, to be sure that, procedure-wise, the board could take action.
The board did agree that Toman should call the attorney.
Toman then reached out to the attorney, via phone. The attorney noted that, from the language on the agenda, any reasonable person could infer that action could be taken on the issue of the purchase of property.
Cooley then noted, “I am completely in agreement that you need the property, but I’m just concerned that if the property is bought, and we are not able to immediately erect a field.” Cooley said she had been discussing the issue with Blair (in the time the board was waiting for Toman to reach the board’s attorney via telephone) and she was going to modify the motion so that the board was only agreeing to purchase the property.
“But from there, you (the boosters) can proceed and can come back to us. But we aren’t committing to anything, such as a building structure I’d like to modify the motion originally made, and move to proceed with the purchase of the property.”
Blair then seconded the motion. The motion passed with a 4-1 vote, with Balcerek voting “no.”