Board considers smaller stadium

FORT MILL -- The Fort Mill school board will consider scaling back the proposed Nation Ford High stadium by 1,000 seats, with a vote expected at the Nov. 12 meeting.

A stadium for Nation Ford and additional gyms at each of the town's two high schools are to be considered as a second item in the school district's March 4 referendum.

Shrinking the stadium from 6,000 to 5,000 seats would bring it more in line with the size of Fort Mill High's stadium -- and also save money, board members said.

Board members are concerned about whether both the academic and athletic issues will be adopted by Fort Mill voters. Because a 6,000-seat stadium would be larger than Fort Mill High's Bob Jones Stadium, some controversy arose in the community.

Two weeks ago, the administration asked Southern Management Group, the district's planning and construction consultant, to count seats at Fort Mill High's stadium. Based on an 18-square-inch per seat count taken during the past two weeks, Fort Mill High's stadium holds 4,808 people, according to Jim Britton of Southern Management.

Schools Superintendent Keith Callicutt explained where the 6,000-seat figure originated: "The 6,000 number was based on the original plans for Bob Jones Stadium. I wasn't here in 1987 when those plans were made."

Although exact figures haven't been formulated, Britton estimated that reducing the stadium's size by 1,000 seats would save $900,000 to $1 million.

Making the pitch to voters

Board members say they will save another $1 million by awarding bids a year early on a new $3.9 million wing at Nation Ford. They hope the savings helps to make the bond referendum more palatable to voters.

Britton hopes the new wing can open at the middle of the next school year. The existing wing would be converted into a ninth-grade academy, as originally planned.

The referendum to go before voters on March 4 is designed as two items. The first is $87.2 million for two elementary schools and a middle school, acquiring additional school sites and performing maintenance on existing facilities.

The second ballot item currently would include about $6.165 million for the 6,000-seat stadium and about $1.8 million more for two additional gymnasiums. Curtailing the Nation Ford stadium's size could reduce the amount of the ballot's second question.

Reducing the stadium's size will require a resolution on how the referendum ballot will be worded when it is sent to the York County Elections Commission.

Board members hope the vote to be taken in two weeks is unanimous. Michael Johnson cast the lone dissenting vote when the board adopted the original wording of the referendum ballot.

"I believe Nation Ford High School should have a stadium," Johnson said Monday night. "The question for me was the 6,000 seats. I think we have to be careful we use accurate information."

Board member Patrick White, citing his son, a Nation Ford student, spoke of the wear and tear on both parents and students in transporting the teams and equipment each week to another stadium.

"Every game is an away game," he said. "All kids in the district deserve to have the same benefits at both high schools."

Board member Wyndie Havnaer said that in discussions with constituents, the issue did not seem to be the number of seats but whether or not they wanted a second stadium.

Board members Diane Dasher and Lewis A. Graham III were absent Monday.

Board chair Martha Kinard urged board members to reach unanimous agreement for the referendum's success.

"The number of seats depends on the size of the people sitting in them," said board member Jan Smiley. "It bothers me we have spent more time discussing this issue than any other when we have so many important things to consider."