The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

October 26, 2011

Work on tornado-damaged East High ballfields set to begin next month

By Jean Cole

ATHENS — Some eastern Limestone County residents are wondering why repairs to tornado-damaged East Limestone High School athletic facilities is taking so long.

The architect overseeing the project — Jim Hartsell of Davis Architects in Birmingham — says assessing the damage from the April 27 tornado and collecting insurance to cover repairs has been “a long and frustrating process.”

He recently gave school officials an update on the work.

“Some residents say we are not moving quickly enough, but it has been a slow process,” Hartsell said. “We had to get a survey of all of the damage, then make sure we were getting insurance (money).”

Surveys were completed about a month ago and the drawings for the repairs were expected to be finished Oct. 21, allowing the schools to advertise for bids on the project for the next two weeks. Hartsell planned to seek an emergency declaration from the building commission at the same time the schools seek bids on the project.  An emergency declaration would allow the schools to invite contractors to pick up the plans for review, set a bid date and proceed. Ordinarily, the schools would have to advertise for bids for three weeks.

“There is a lot of work to be done, but it is not complicated,” Hartsell said.

Damaged in April

The damage occurred sometime after 4 p.m. April 27,  when an EF-5 tornado struck the East Limestone community. The storm bent the football field light poles and damaged the football field restrooms on the visitor’s side and nearly demolished the fencing, lights, dugouts and batting facility on the baseball/softball field. School officials had hoped to fix all of the problems sooner.

“We thought we could get the football field poles bid and corrected prior to the beginning of football season,” Superintendent Dr. Barry Carroll said in July. “We could not, therefore, we corrected the lights only so they will shine on the field and will address the football field poles when we address the softball/baseball field poles, lights and fences.”

Repairs will be done in two phases.

Phase 1, which should be completed in early February 2012 in time for baseball and softball season, will include repairing dugouts, lighting, fencing and restrooms, he said. Work on the first phase could start in November if officials get the emergency declaration from the building commission.

Phase II, will include new lights at the stadium, which were installed new just five or six years ago.

Limestone County Schools Maintenance Director Steve Wallace said the schools would replace what the insurance agrees to replace.

Carroll said the schools are “trying to put the facilities back as good as it was but without costing (the school system).”

He said the Federal Emergency Management Agency would help cover what insurance does not cover. 

Hartsell said FEMA has already paid for the damage survey, which cost $12,000 to $13,000.

Squeeze play

Workers would be under a tight deadline to complete the repairs before the start of baseball/softball season.

“Everything is going to have to fall in place perfectly for it to work,” said board president Earl Glaze.

There is no contingency plan in place if the work is not finished.

Baseball coach Bill Tribble told board members Athens High School baseball coach Thad Prater “has been great” in trying to find a way for East to use its field for a few games but there was no way to play all of them there. Booster Club president Tribble said there were no other fields available.

Board member Charles Shoulders wondered if the team could simply schedule all away games, but Tribble said the team relies on proceeds generated from home games. He said he hosts a preseason tournament that generates $4,000 to $5,000, which pays for equipment, officials and other costs. The team also relies on proceeds from the sale of concessions, he said.

Tribble said the softball team is in a lot better place because it can rent a field elsewhere.