GALLATIN, Tenn. (WKRN) — The back-and-forth bleacher battle began when Beech High School’s bleachers collapsed in August, and despite the fact that a request from Sumner County Director of Schools Dr. Scott Langford to use $15.8 million in reserves to replace them passed the budget committee Friday, the debate is far from over.
Some commissioners argue it’s not about the bleachers.
After the bleachers at Beech High School collapsed, other inspections revealed parts of Hendersonville, Portland, and White House High Schools’ bleachers should also be replaced.
When Langford initially asked the county commission to draw $15.8 million from the district’s reserves fund to replace the bleachers, commissioners on the education committee deferred the vote before ultimately passing it 5-to-1 during another education committee meeting Friday.
County Commissioner Tim Jones told News 2 the commission would have approved Langford’s request to withdraw the funds had his plan only been about bleachers.
“‘Don’t ever let a good crisis go to waste,’ is the phrase that comes to mind when I see what Director Langford is doing,” Jones said.
In addition to replacing the bleachers, Langford also wants to put the $15.8 million toward building new tracks, renovating athletic training rooms, and funding the beginning stages for a new turf field and tennis courts.
“We feel like they’re leveraging this emergency to get a whole bunch of things that they may not need, and we’ve got a lot of needs coming up,” Jones said.
However, Langford told News 2 these improvements are immediate needs identified by the people who use these facilities: coaches, athletes, maintenance staff, principals, teachers, booster clubs and more.
“I always believe in these opportunities, we should listen to people closest to the ground, not somebody sitting at a conference table making a decision for 30,000 students who has very little interaction with those students and parents,” Langford said.
He added he never expected this much pushback when he made his initial request.
“We’re not asking for another penny of tax money; we’re not asking the county commission to approve more money for us; we’re simply asking for them to move money from savings into checking. It’s just an accounting maneuver,” Langford said.
Jones said these problems could have been avoided all together had the district kept up with stadium inspections, but one hadn’t been performed since 2011, and the district has failed to release the report, according to Jones.
State law only requires annual inspections on retractable bleachers in gymnasiums, according to Langford. He said on Tuesday evening, the school board will consider passing a bleacher inspection policy which would require two inspections per year to avoid future problems.
If the $15.8 million request passes the budget committee Monday evening, the full board would not be able to vote on the measure until Monday, Oct. 30, because they legally have to give the public ample notice, according to Jones.
“We all want to fix the stadiums. It’s not about that,” Jones said. “There are nuances there that the general public is not aware of, and they’re listening to the simple narrative that we’ve got to fix our stadiums and they don’t want to do it. That’s not who we are.”