By Christopher Smith
School officials prematurely began renovating the track at Southeast Whitfield High School instead of requesting bids as required by state law, Mike Ewton, director of operations for Whitfield County Schools, said.
School board members voted 5-0 Monday night to set an Aug. 6 deadline for bids. Ewton said it will be at least eight weeks after a company is selected before the new track, which is being paid for from an anonymous donation of almost $1 million, is finished.
“We did this (stopped the project) under legal advice,” he said. “Honestly, we started too soon. So we put the brakes on construction to bid it out. We did part of the work on the track and then we stopped it because we had to put it out to bids because of the scope of the project; to be legal.”
A request for proposal posted on the county school system website on July 4 (wcschools.drupalgardens.com/open-bids) asks for construction companies to submit bids to begin work by September and complete it no later than November.
A timeline provided by the school system says a pre-submittal meeting is set for Wednesday, July 24, at 1 p.m. at the school system central office at 1306 S. Thornton Ave. in Dalton. The timeline also indicates a list of top candidates will be chosen after all bids are received, company officials will be interviewed and the board will vote on awarding the project, but does not provide specific dates.
The halt to the project isn’t likely to increase costs, Ewton said.
“We don’t know for sure,” he said. “We think the original contractor will bid and I’m hopeful it will be in the same price range ($965,000).”
Impact on Southeast sports?
The delay means the track, which circles the Southeast football field, won’t be finished before the first Raiders kickoff set for Aug. 30.
“What difference does it make?” track coach Michael Durham said of the delay. “I don’t see why people, why you would be upset if it wasn’t totally done by the first game. Some people want it done now. They say, ‘Why is it not finished?’ Why would you even be worried about it?
“Can you play on the football field? Absolutely. Do the players have to walk over asphalt or gravel or rocks to get there? They aren’t doing anything on the track. They’ll be on the field. It’s a non-issue.”
Durham said the Southeast cheerleaders “might be the ones who would be upset” because they would have to cheer on a hard surface or gravel instead of the synthetic track they’re used to.
Ewton says it won’t come to that.
“If the surface is not sufficient (to cheer on) we will make plans,” he said. “It may be laying down Astroturf or carpet, but we’ll have something safe for the cheerleaders, something that accommodates them. There are several temporary alternatives like that. We’re hopeful that the sub-surface will be ready by the first home game.”
Discontentment from community members about the delay misses the “generosity” of the anonymous donation of nearly $1 million that is being used to fund the project, Durham said.
He said he isn’t worried about any impact on track season, which begins next spring.
“(But) I don’t care when they get it done (or) if it’s done by track season,” he said. “It will be so worth it. Oh my goodness, it will be worth it.”
Will the construction get in the way of Raider fans trying to enjoy a Friday night football game?
“As far as the places that people normally go, no,” Ewton said.
The thing to keep in mind is that the new track is going to be “very nice when all is said and done,” Durham said.
After that “no one will be upset,” he added.
Athletic Director Mark Lentych and Southeast football coach Sean Gray did not return several voice mails left for them.