Football stadium bleacher upgrades planned

In an effort to improve safety and meet building code requirements, Catawba County Schools plans to replace bleachers at several of its high school football stadiums.

The board of education approved an agreement Monday night to hire an architect to create design concepts and cost estimates for the replacements.

Assistant Superintendent Steve Demiter said the school system is exploring work on the home and visitor bleachers at St. Stephens and Bandys high schools, the home side at Fred T. Foard High School and the visitor side at Bunker Hill High School.

Demiter said those sets of bleachers need upgrades to meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) access requirements. He said Maiden High School's stadium is newer and already meets ADA standards.

"We've got some bleacher situations that are not real safe," Superintendent Glenn Barger said after Monday's meeting. "We've got a chance to address those situations."

The school system asked the county for $2.3 million to fund bleacher replacements at the high schools, and the county provided $1.9 million, Demiter said. An updated budget the school board approved Monday night lists that $1.9 million for bleacher replacements at Foard and St. Stephens.

"Many of the bleachers were put in many years ago," Demiter told the board. "We're not sure we're going to be able to do all the bleachers right now, so we're going to have to prioritize."

Demiter said the system hopes an architect will report design and cost options back to the board by November or December. Once the school board approves a design and cost estimate, it will seek bids for work on the replacements.

Demiter said the system hopes to complete selected replacements by the 2012 football season.

In other business Monday night:

n Barger said the N.C. Department of Public Instruction recognized Catawba County Schools' graduation rate as the highest in the state for medium-sized school districts. He said the state divides school districts into three divisions – small, medium and large.

In numbers released in August, Catawba posted an 86.2 percent four-year graduation rate for ninth-graders who entered high school in the 2007-08 school year and graduated in 2010-11. Fred T. Foard posted the county's highest rate, 90.4 percent, during that time.

"That's an awesome accomplishment for all of our K-12 schools," said Joyce Spencer, the school board chairwoman.

Barger said district leaders will attend a luncheon Oct. 11 to receive the award.

n The board approved its local current expense and capital outlay budgets for the fiscal year that began July 1 and ends June 30, 2012.

The local current expense fund totals $25,499,716, and the capital outlay budget totals $10,640,186. Barger said Monday night's approval does not affect any district employees. He said the system expects a reduction in federal funding next year.

"The real challenge is not this year, it's next year," Barger said. "Our goal is to save as much money this year to help offset next year."

n The board also corrected a typo in its student attendance policy. The policy allows students in the district to miss eight days in a semester and still get credit for course work. One reference said students may not miss more than five days.