Local sports teams struck out on funding at the government level this summer.
School districts had several sports projects in the works, but the Surry County Board of Commissioners shot them all down.
These proposed projects included resurfacing cracked tennis courts, replacing worn electrical wiring at a baseball field and bleacher repairs at football stadiums.
Easily the most expensive project up for consideration was renovating Elkin High’s elderly gym. Far older (and less accessible for the handicapped) than the four high schools on the north side of the county, Phase I of the project would have cost $5.82 million.
This would be equal to about a quarter of all the money the county spent on education in the 2015-16 fiscal year, about $23.5 million for Mount Airy, Elkin and Surry County school systems.
This was the only sport-related matter on the county’s proposed budget and was shot down.
Mount Airy had two projects under consideration. One was a $200,000 project to replace bleachers in Wallace Shelton Stadium.
The other was resurfacing of the tennis courts that has been an issue since the girls’ team won the last of its three straight 1A titles in the fall of 2013. Coach Rodney Pell noted that the courts have gotten noticeably worse over the past couple of years.
Digging down and starting over with a substrate and a top surface put the requested amount at $255,000.
Mount Airy wasn’t the only tennis program seeking work.
In 2006, the county spent heavily in resurfacing the tennis courts and tracks, noted Robert Draughn, SCS director of plant operations. That $450,000 investment should be protected.
The county high schools didn’t even get their tennis request on the projected budget. In addition, proposed track work at North Surry and East Surry (estimated at $20,000) also didn’t make the cut on the document.
Surry Central, which hosts more track meets than the other area schools, needs more work. For Surry Central, the consultant recommended filling cracks and holes, then add an additional half-inch layer of latex and granules, followed by a spray of UV protectant. This would run about $45,000.
This project wasn’t recommended by Knopf.
At East Surry, a ball game was disrupted by lights failing at Barry Hall Field.
Draughn explained that the wiring and lamp hardware haven’t been replaced in a quarter-century at some of the ballfields. A new bulb or ballast might get installed from time to time, but the rest of the lights have remained.
A photo of damaged wiring at East Surry showed how the thick rubber casing was torn open in several places. When the wind gusts, the wiring moves slightly, causing a back-and-forth wiggle that can slowly tear rubber and break small wire strands, Draughn told the SCS Board of Education.
Rather than replace all the lighting parts at one time, Draughn suggested doing the work in phases with $12,000 for East Surry in the first phase, then other baseball fields, softball fields and football stadiums — in that order of necessity — over the next several years.
Unfortunately, the request was shot down.
These decisions come on the heels of the county district finding out this spring that it would be losing $277,000 in state funding for the next fiscal year.
In March, Superintendent Dr. Travis Reeves warned the SCS Board of Education that the district could lose between 7 percent and 10 percent of state low-wealth funding.
When the state government released its new ranking of low-wealth counties, Surry County improved slightly, which caused its position to move from 28th-worst in the state to 44th worst. The state sent a letter to Knopf, explaining that Surry improved because of an increase in population and a drop in unemployment from 6.96 percent to 5.46 percent.
By improving outside of the bottom 40, Surry County is no longer considered part of Tier I, which gets the highest consideration from the state on funding concerns.
As for the commissioners, the board did approve several projects related to schools, but those were related to building improvements and parking lot repairs.
The county has a strong need for renovations for its bus garage, but that didn’t make the cut, either. The Dobson facility has just three work bays to service 260 vehicles for the SCS, Mount Airy and Elkin districts. The bays aren’t long enough to close the outside doors, meaning workers are exposed to frigid winter weather all day long when working on the buses.
The commissioners even considered cutting two school resource officers from middle schools to get costs down.
Despite the projects left out, the commissioners still approved nearly $23 million for the coming year.
For the fiscal just ended, education represented 31.8 percent of all Surry County expenditures, according to a budget report from County Manager Chris Knopf. That was easily the biggest category, coming in at nearly twice the cost of social services and more than three times either the sheriff’s department or EMS.
Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692.