I have been wanting to write about something that's been on my mind for several weeks now, and with the request made last week by the Frankfort Athletic Boosters during the board of education meeting, it would seem now is the time.
By Liz Beavers
Tribune Managing Editor
I have been wanting to write about something that’s been on my mind for several weeks now, and with the request made last week by the Frankfort Athletic Boosters during the board of education meeting, it would seem now is the time.
Ever since the first payment came due on the massive debt for the Keyser High School athletic complex, the board has had to make up the difference every year between what was raised and what the actual loan payment was.
At times, that “difference” has been quite a lot, and eventually the board just began budgeting for the payment.
Talk to those who started the fund raising campaign back in 2002 and you will hear all kinds of reasons why the money was not raised. Mostly, they counted on a number of alumni to come through as big donors, and for whatever reason, that did not happen.
Secondly, the economy was blamed.
And thirdly, it is extremely hard to ask people to donate toward something that is already in use and, in reality, will need to be replaced or refurbished very soon (i.e. - the turf).
Ask those same people whose idea it was in the first place to construct the Taj Mahal of stadiums and you will get a lot of shrugs and blank looks.
Several years ago I wrote an eight-part series on the athletic complex in an attempt to explain the fiasco to our readers (and quite frankly, to understand it better myself). I spoke with just about everyone I knew who was involved in the beginning and throughout the process, and no one was able or willing to tell me who made the ultimate decision to go for the very best of the best.
I understand the intent was to comply with guidelines which enabled the school to host regional and state tournaments and, therefore, bring in the revenue that comes with them. But the athletic complex goes above and beyond what is needed to meet those guidelines.
In fact, I have had several people tell me that Keyser High School has a better athletic facility than most colleges.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am a Keyser High graduate and I am proud of that facility up there. It is a far, far better situation than the many years our athletes had to leave campus to practice and play at Potomac State College.
However, “somebody’s” dreams for a home for the Golden Tornado went overboard.
And with the fading out of the community volunteers who tried so hard to raise money to repay the loan, who has been burdened with the task of paying for it?
The principal of the high school.
Former principal (now retired) Charles Wimer tried hard to raise enough to make the payment every year, but it just didn’t happen, mostly for the reasons already mentioned.
On several occasions, current principal Mike Lewis shared some ideas with the board in regard to possible fund raisers, but he always maintained that his job needed to be as principal, not fund raiser.
I agree with him whole-heartedly.
And I have to wonder …. was the board’s insistence that he be the chief fund raiser for a stadium that is already in use part of what drove Mr. Lewis to move on to another school and county?
Mr. Lewis loves Keyser High School, and he has made great strides there. Losing him is definitely the Golden Tornado’s loss and Marshall County’s gain.
I also can’t help but wonder if the new person will be asked to split his or her time between running a school and raising funds.
It is time for the board to cut its losses and admit a mistake was made when they approved the loan in the first place.
It is time to start fresh and move on.
With that said, on Tuesday the board members will be considering the Frankfort Athletic Boosters’ request for funding for lighting for their baseball, softball and soccer fields.
The FHS Boosters have asked for very little from the board over the years. They have mostly done things on their own, from raising funds within the community to relying on volunteers to do the work.
When they did ask for something - it was in the form of a loan, which was promptly paid back.
The estimated cost for the lights is as much as a little over $600,000. That’s a far cry from the $2 million cost of Keyser’s facility.
The annual payment for Keyser’s athletic field is $279,000. That’s almost half of what the Frankfort Boosters say will be their total bill.
Yes, it’s taxpayers’ money and yes, it could be used elsewhere.
But fair is fair.
The board of education owes this to Frankfort.
They need to approve this request, pay if off in three years (at the most), and move forward with lessons learned.