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Pine Tree school officials defend stadium process, design

By Christina Lane
July 11, 2012 at 10 p.m.

A man who served on Pine Tree ISD's bond development committee blames a year-long delay in completion of the new athletic complex on members of the school board whom, he believes, ignored recommendations of the committee.

Bids for the complex in April were $2 million over budget, requiring the district to scale down the plans and re-bid the project, budgeted at $15.4 million.

"At some point, the board of trustees need to make some decisions and move forward because it is ridiculous to have this project delayed this long because it does nothing but drive up the cost," said Greg Hulett, who served on Pine Tree ISD's bond development committee despite opposing the 2010 bond.

Originally intended to be ready by October, the athletic complex is now slated to open in 2013-14.

Pine Tree Pirates will play on their familiar turf - as they did this past year - while the district considers a new round of bids and begins the construction process on property near Pine Tree middle and intermediate schools as well as near Lear Park.

Though the district has replaced turf at Pirate Stadium on Pine Tree Road and made adjustments to the track - bond items that were approved by voters - some members of the community are wondering why bond projects have been delayed.

Cementing the cause

In April, construction manager Von Gallagher of Gallagher Construction blamed higher cement costs for busting the budget.

All concrete providers in the region are charging about $96 to $98 per cubic yard for concrete, he said, while the projected cost was based on $85 per cubic yard.

Superintendent T.J. Farler said Gallagher Construction was responsible for estimating concrete at $85 per cubic yard.

"I think it's the nature of the business," Farler said. "We were coming in off a slower time and there was more demand for concrete." That higher demand drove the price up, she said.

Farler said Gallagher Construction has not been paid and will not be paid until after trustees accept a guaranteed maximum price for the project. She also said she does not believe the trustees were misled by either Gallagher Construction or PBK Architects.

"I have confidence in what they are doing with Pine Tree," Farler said.

Hulett has a different view on why project bids were over budget.

'Can't afford'

"I saw the initial plans that the board of trustees had the architect draw, and it didn't resemble what the bond development committee talked about," Hulett said.

First, he said, the committee supported building on property near Lear Park, since the city parking lots could have been used for Pine Tree events, cutting the cost of building parking lots.

But instead, trustees bought another parcel of property in November, farther from the city park, which required the school to build its own parking lots.

"The land the board of trustees bought is too far from parking lots to use them," Hulett said. "That is one reason we're over budget. It's too far and we have to build our own parking lots. That was the whole idea about putting it at Lear Park. The Lear Park location would be a suitable site and it would save money on parking."

Farler conceded that the parking lots are a big factor in the cost of the complex, because the city of Longview requires one parking space for every three seats in the athletic complex.

Hulett said it wasn't just the parking lots that pushed the project costs over budget. He said the final plans were too grandiose.

"There are a lot of things that resemble the Little Elm stadium (in the Dallas-Forth Worth area) that we can't afford in Pine Tree," Hulett said, noting the original architect's drawings showed a mid-level entry stadium as opposed to a standard walk-up stadium.

After the bond was passed, the board held several community meetings seeking input on the design.

Hulett said he did not attend any meetings until trustees unveiled the final design.

Fellow bond development committee member Cynthia Hellen, who is newly -elected to the school board, disagreed with Hulett, saying the committee's recommendations were taken into consideration.

"I think it is what we had hoped for," Hellen said. "We were all clear that we were making recommendations and that these decisions would ultimately be decided by school board, the architect, and other people."

Hellen said she believes some of the recommendations, such as moving the stadium from its location on Pine Tree Road to property near Lear Park, were "different from anything anybody had envisioned when we started the process. It wasn't cookie-cutter."

A new design

Faced with bringing the project in on budget, trustees scaled it down. Original plans for a four-lane boulevard leading into the stadium from Loop 281 have been nixed. The new plan calls for a three-lane entry road.

The school board further reduced the amount of concrete by making the stadium street-level. That also eliminated accessibility compliance requirements for ramps, Farler said.

Trustees cut some brick from the front of the complex; reduced some concession stand areas; and reduced the size of the game day field house to 2,000 square feet.

"We are finding that we like this design better," Farler said.

While Hellen acknowledged the process is taking longer than some members of community had wanted, she said she doesn't believe the original opening "was very realistic."

"It takes a lot of time to design a project like this and build it," she said. "We had added aspects of purchasing the land."

Farler said after the bond passed in May, trustees interviewed architects and hired a firm. They then purchased land in November. Between December and May, two pipelines were moved from the property - one of which would have gone under the middle of the playing field.

"In taking our time the result has been phenomenal," Farler said. "When you consider that you only build a stadium once every 40 years, you have to be strategic - you have to consider the long-term. ... Although we would have liked to have been in earlier, we want to make sure we are doing due diligence with our taxpayers' money."

The district is set to receive bids in August, and Farler said construction typically takes about eight months.

Additionally, trustees decided to combine all of the projects - not just the athletic complex - in this round of bids. Projects included are the stadium, field house for girls soccer, tennis and softball, some additional parking by the softball field and tennis courts, renovations to the theater at Pine Tree High School and renovations to a hallway at Pine Tree High School.

The renovation of the hallway will include space for two new career technology programs - culinary arts and video media. The other existing classrooms and areas will be refurbished with new flooring, paint and technology upgrades including a new local area network for the high school campus. Pine Tree Junior High and Pine Tree Intermediate schools also will be upgraded with a new local area network this summer.

As a way to keep all projects under budget, Farler said items on several projects are being bid as alternates so trustees can approve them if there is extra money.

School board President Terre Dunn said trustees are proceeding with decisions they believe best reflect students' and taxpayers' interests.

"Each project in the bond package is a valuable investment in the future of our school, and it is with that perspective decisions are made," Dunn said. "Even if this process takes a little longer than was originally discussed, I believe the outcomes will be well worth the wait."

Hulett said he hopes the community will hold the school board accountable.

"I think all people who voted and got the bond passed have an obligation to hold the school board accountable to spend the money wisely and as the community wants it to be spent," he said.



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