Bids high for stadium work

Mark Maynard, The Independent

ASHLAND — The Putnam Stadium restoration project is on life support — at least for the 2013 high school football season.

Barring a last-second Hail Mary, it looks like nothing will be done until after the 2013 season is finished because bids to put in new bleachers came in much higher than expected on Monday.

There were only two bidders — Toadvine Enterprises from Louisville and WB Fosson and Sons from Ashland — and both were about $300,000 over the $1.3 million budget for the first phase of the $5.2 million project.

Toadvine had the low bid of $1,550,000 and the total caught Ashland Superintendent Steve Gilmore off guard. He had spoken previously with the firm about some changes that seemed to guarantee a bid that would be under budget for Phase I.

“I’m very disappointed,” Gilmore told the Ashland school board. “We met in their offices in Lexington and they recommended that if we kept the end zone the way it was, and put the bleachers on it (existing concrete), we would save $400,000. That day, I looked Mr. Toadvine right in the eye and said ‘For five years you’ve told me the bleachers would be right at a $1 million. Now you’re telling me it’s $600,000?’ He said ‘That’s about right.’ I said, ‘Then we’re good.’”

Gilmore said he’s not sure from looking at the bid what happened to that $400,000 savings. However, Gilmore did suggest the prevailing wage, which is one of the highest in the state, did run the project’s price up.

With the clock already ticking on getting the stadium being ready for the 2013 season, Gilmore said the Putnam Stadium Restoration Committee, of which he is a member, couldn’t recommend going forward with the project this year.

He did expect to have a conference call with Chuck Trimble of Murphy Graves Architects and Toadvine Enterprises to see if there was any wiggle room in the bid. However, Gilmore said the committee was adamant about not wanting to cut any corners from the original plan.

“Our position was we don’t want to compromise,” Gilmore said. “Whatever we put in, we want it to be able to last another 75 years.”

The decision on the stadium restoration was tabled until the next board meeting although Gilmore could call an emergency special meeting if necessary.

Besides funding, the project is also under a time crunch. The Tomcats have their first home game on Aug. 30. The first phase was already not going to include working locker rooms but would have state-of-the-art bleachers that would horseshoe around the stadium, chairback reserved seats, a new press box and a concrete walkway platform behind the bleachers.

The aging stadium, which has been showing signs of deterioration for years, was built in 1937 with WPA funds for $6,500 and has served the school system and community for 75 years. Gilmore’s concerns have centered around the safety of the facility, which has at least twice been propped up with infrastructure work in the past 30 years.

While there’s no sure way to determine how long the stadium might stand, the safety issue remains the top priority, Gilmore said. “That’s been my thing all along,” he said.

Board member Frank DeMartino was miffed at Toadvine Enterprises for what he felt like was an inflated bid. “Looking at it from a business perspective, I think they were being disingenuous. They knew they had us under the gun. My opinion of Mr. Toadvine’s firm is not very high right now.”

DeMartino said we have a “bunch of disappointed committee members” who have worked on the project since 2007.

The school board had allocated $1 million to the initial phase and the foundation had raised slightly more than $300,000. However, that didn’t come close to the low bid total and the four-month time frame was coming into question, too.

“Time-frame wise, it was so hard to predict if we could get it finished anyway,” Gilmore said.

The school system depends on home football and basketball games to fund the rest of the high school sports programs, Gilmore said. “We couldn’t afford to lose one or two home games,” he said.

“It’s not going to happen this year,” DeMartino said. “That’s where we are.”

Gilmore said the architects, Murphy Graves, are doing the work on the stadium at no cost. He said they were disappointed with the bids as well. Frank Culbertson, who works for the firm, said as much at the meeting.

“It means a lot to you all, it means a lot to the school and it means a lot to the community,” he said.