It was crooked and it was obvious.
Wheeling Island Stadium was broken, and no one knew how much it was going to cost to repair the concrete slab in the southwestern corner of the grandstand that had shifted. After a second slab crashed onto the concourse area and damaged fencing adjacent to South Penn Street, no one knew what else might be found to be deficient.
“The day I found out about the issues at the stadium it was on Good Friday (April 14), and that day is when everything is usually pretty calm,” recalled Ohio County Schools Superintendent Dr. Kim Miller, now in her second year as system’s CEO. “At first, I didn’t think it was a really big problem, but then I saw the photo, and I knew immediately the magnitude of the issue.
“Several of us went to the stadium, and yup, there was a piece that had slipped out of position. After that, we worked very closely with the city so we could have the space we needed to examine the problems that had never, ever happened before,” she said. “Then, as the slipped piece of concrete was being removed, another piece came crashing down in the blink of an eye. Luckily, no one was injured when that took place, and now that’s it’s finished, it will be nice to watch the rest of our sports seasons take place where they should take place.”
Initially, Miller was told by engineers and architects that the inspections and repair work could take as long as seven months, and that meant Wheeling Park High’s soccer, lacrosse, and football teams would have to adopt new fields for home games for the remainder of last year’s academic calendar and the beginning of the current one.
The Patriots, though, this week’s seventh-ranked team in the W.Va. Class AAA rankings, finally returned to the Wheeling Island turf Friday night but lost a 37-34 decision to No. 1 University.
“The entire stadium was inspected, and the structure has been braced for even more support. You can see the braces that were put into place much easier than before, so that’s a very good thing for future inspections and future maintenance,” Miller explained. “The whole structure has now been reinforced, and that’s why I tell people that nothing is going to knock it down. Not a chance.
“One thing I learned during these repairs to the stadium is that people talk about the history of the place, and one thing I heard is that the press box and the home side were supposed to be on the west side instead of on the east side,” she shared “But from what I was told, the press box could be bigger on the east side, so that’s the decision that was made.”
Not only was the stadium ready two months earlier than expected, but the expense was more than half the amount originally projected.
“One word. Hallelujah,” Miller said. “We were prepared for a pretty big bill as far as all of the work that needed to be performed, but it came in ahead of schedule and far under the cost that I know I was anticipating. We worked very closely with the folks doing the job.
“We knew it was possible that the repairs could have cost as much as $1 million so it was a huge relief for everyone concerned that it came down to a much lower expense,” she continued. “We do know now that the stadium structure will be there for many, many years to come.”
The football team did play the season’s first game at West Family Stadium on the campus of West Liberty University and registered a 24-6 win over rival Brooke High.
“Everyone involved enjoyed the experience of playing and attending our game against Brooke on the West Liberty campus,” Miller said. “It was fun until, of course, the sky opened up on us all, and it rained pretty hard. We really can’t thank West Liberty enough because they really helped us at a time when we really needed it.
“Plus, I know it was a lot of fun for a lot of people who had graduated from there but had not visited the campus since the stadium was completely renovated and since a lot of other changes and additions had taken place,” she said. “Although we’re very happy to be back into our home stadium, I believe everyone involved with going to West Liberty appreciated the chance to do so.”
Although her first year in the superintendent’s position began amid controversy, Miller believes progress was realized, and a positive energy continues to spread throughout the school system. Most of the initiatives adopted by the personnel in the Central Office worked well, but some did not, and that is why Miller and her staff elected to produce a television commercial to welcome the students and their parents back to school last month.
“Last year was a learning curve for all of us; that’s for sure because we were doing as many things as possible to accomplish our goals,” she said. “Recently, we compiled a list of all of the things that we did do. and that was a ‘Holy cow, how did we do all of that in just one year’ moment for us. From this point, we want to do more outreach and more work with the community, and it continues to be important to us to get out to our schools so we can see what’s taking place in our classrooms.
“I can say that I feel pretty good about it, but as I always say, I believe we can do even better,” she insisted. “I love spending the time with our kids, and I know the Central Office staff enjoys getting out there, too. Now, there are times when the phone start ringing and all of the paperwork piles up, but that’s when I take a deep breath and tell everyone that I’ll be back in an hour or so because I want to get out there more and more.”
Possessing a presence on social media platforms was one of the goals set forth by Miller, and Assistant Superintendent Rick Jones managed the effort. Not only were student spotlights, schedule updates, and program introductions part of the plan, but so was handling questions and complaints.
“His work on social media has been embraced by our community because a lot of people enjoy going to our Facebook page and seeing the student highlights and how we have gone about celebrating the children in our school system,” Miller said. “They now know everything that is going on, and if someone has a question, it’s answered immediately. Mr. Jones oversees the social media effort, but all of the Central Office staff members have the ability of getting on there to post things and to and answer any and all questions that have been asked to this point.
“Sure, there’s been some negativity, but we never turned our back to it,” she insisted. “We face things as they come whether those issues are on the adult level, or if it pertains to things that take place in our schools. We have no problem talking with people who have their concerns, whether they have called us or if they have posted something to social media. Sometimes they have jumped on bad information, so we let them know the truth, and after that those folks usually take it down on Facebook because they’ve realized it’s not true.
“We focus on the kids when we are making decisions because that’s our business,” Miller added. “My job is to offer the children an exceptional educational experience, as well as a fun experience, and that’s what we are doing.”
(Photos provided by Ohio County Schools)