Whitehall-Yearling High School students and athletes returning to school in a few weeks will welcome not only an entirely new school but also refurbished athletics facilities.
The Whitehall City School District is spending nearly $415,000 to renovate and update the high school's track, bleachers and press box, which have been in dire need of repairs for years.
According to Dave Hausmann, the district's director of facilities and transportation, the most pressing reason for the new and updated facilities was safety.
Work began in May and is expected to be finished by Aug. 1, weather permitting, Hausmann said.
"I think come the first home football game (Aug. 23 versus Utica), it's going to be a nice surprise for the public," he said last week. "I think it's going to be well-received."
Contractors began with the high school's old track in the spring, tearing out the old surface, re-grading, applying new asphalt and then finishing with a new synthetic surface this week.
Whitehall school board president Walter Armes, who has officiated track and field events for years, said he last fall that he was thrilled that the project finally has come to fruition.
"It's needed some attention for a long time," he told fellow board members in October.
Mike Ferguson, the district's athletics director, agreed. Because the track has been in such bad shape for such a long time, track meets weren't being held at Whitehall-Yearling. In fact, it has been about seven years, he said, since the district hosted the Whitehall Invitational, which once drew athletes from throughout central Ohio.
Hausmann said new fencing fabric also was installed around parts of the track, totaling $15,000.
Wooden walking and riser planks in the high school's bleachers also were replaced with new aluminum planking. District maintenance workers had been replacing the rotting, warping and splitting wooden planks over the years as they fell into disrepair, but the job just became too big.
More handicap-accessible seating and rails were installed, making the facility compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
"It was definitely a safety concern that we had been working toward for years," Hausmann said.
The bleacher renovation project totaled $171,500.
Hausmann said he also had safety concerns when it came to the facility's press box. Large wooden shutters, which had to be secured open on metal hooks, were replaced with double-hung windows. Hausmann said always feared that one of the hooks would come loose, causing one of the heavy shutters to fall and hurt someone.
A new aluminum platform and steps were added to the press box, along with aluminum siding to the exterior. Total cost was about $20,000, Hausmann said.
Because of the new buildings, maintenance costs have dropped significantly in the district, freeing project funds usually set aside each year for more pressing needs, like roof repair or classroom upgrades.
Hausmann said this is the first time the district's athletics facilities have been the focus of renovations of this magnitude.