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Commissioners vote 4-1 to solicit bids to repair Highlands Soccer Field

The Highlands Soccer team experienced substantial hurdles over the two seasons due to the field being in such a state of disrepair that conditions were unsafe for games to be held. 

Officials have skirted around environmental problems on the field since its inaugural season in the Spring of 2009. Not only a field for soccer teams to compete, but the area adjacent to Highlands School also serves the students as a location for outdoor recreation and classes. With record rainfall this past year, the field was not able to drain in between rain and games, preventing the field from being used. 

During the joint meeting with the Macon County Board of Commissioners and Macon County Board of Education, Jeff Weller who is a parent, retired soccer and architect who has been involved with the field since it was first designed, spoke to the drainage issues of the field and what needed to occur to fix it. 

Weller told county leaders that the 100-125 inches of rain that fell during the Fall soccer season caused the field to be water-logged and resulted in games being canceled or home games moved to other schools. The games that were canceled and rescheduled are also unlikely to be played, because as the temperatures begin to cool in Highlands, the field freezes, resulting in the ground essentially turning into a skating rink. 

Prior to the field’s construction, soccer practices were held on a small open area at the school and all “home” games were played at Macon Middle School in Franklin. The first boys soccer team at Highlands School came in the mid-1990s. The first varsity girls season started in the early 2000s.

Weller explained that the only option for Highlands to continue hosting home soccer matchups would be to repair the existing field, which is expected to cost just shy of $900,000. While the Buck Creek recreation area has a soccer field, the field isn’t regulation size for competition play. State regulations require a minimum length of 100 yards by 50 yards wide.

The area behind the school was a pond long ago which meant water problems, but it could fit a field 108 yards long by 55 yards wide. To deal with the inherent water problem, a “herringbone” drainage system was constructed under the entire field. In addition, the field was sloped for surface drainage.

Without a location to relocate the field, and the drainage issue continuing to cause problems, Highlands School is requesting the county to replace the field grass with turf as a solution. 

Commissioner Higdon noted that Highlands field project was not part of the school system’s capital outlay request, therefore he could not support it. Highlands School Board member Hilary Wilkes explained that the issue couldn’t have been part of the capital outlay request, because that request was made prior to the current issues as this year’s record rainfall was unprecedented. 

School Board Chairman Jim Breedlove agreed with Wilkes and said they were not aware of the significant issue at the time of the original capital outlay request and now that they are aware of the issue the school system wants to prioritize the repair —and if action is not taken now, the school is looking at missing two additional seasons of home games and field use. 

Higdon stated that such request should be included as part of the county’s annual budget process instead of coming up mid-year after the budget is finalized. However, county leaders noted that factors such as rainfall cannot be controlled by the county and issues arise throughout the year, which is why the county has a contingency budget — which by definition is developed to provide funding in case of events or circumstances that cannot be predicted with certainty, are unforeseen and serve as an incidental expense. 

Each year, the Macon County Board of Education holds a meeting to priories capital expenditures for Macon County Schools. Each school sends in a “wish list” of projects to the board, and then the school board evaluates each item and priories the requests for county consideration. In addition to that meeting, a Joint Facilities Review Committee meets regularly and discusses school system building and facility needs. Both of these discussed the need for turf on the Highlands field. The school board made the recommendation to commissioners for the project. The School Board is responsible for identifying needs within the school system and those needs are presented to commissioners for consideration as commissioners are responsible for funding the needs identified by the school board. 

Commissioner Josh Young noted he agrees there is a need for turf, however, he would like to see whatever company puts turf on the field provided a warranty for the work so the county isn’t spending money on something that might fail down the road. 

Macon County Manager Derek Roland requested guidance on how commissioners would like to move forward at which time Commissioner Young made a motion to put the project out to bid for companies to submit plans and cost estimates for the project. Although Young’s motion did not include anything other than getting cost proposals from companies for consideration, Commissioner Paul Higdon voted against the motion citing he did not want to consider any projects until, “I will not be supporting any of these that were not included in the capital improvement plan until we can have a smaller meeting, with smaller people, take out the emotions, and prioritize capital improvement spending for our educational facilities in Macon County.

The Macon County Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 to solicit bids for the Highlands Soccer field turd resurfacing project, with Commissioner Higdon voting against the measure. 

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