The best seats at West Hall High School’s football stadium aren’t at the 50 yard line.
They’re on the 41.
The school’s new $1.8 million synthetic turf field was incorrectly installed this past summer with the center at the 41 yard line instead of the 50 when watching the game from the stands.
Will Schofield, superintendent for the Hall County School District, said the mistake occurred in an attempt to fix another problem with the track circling around the field.
The old West Hall football field was centered inside the stadium perimeter — centered with the press box, the bleachers and the stadium lights at the back. But the track circling the field was not centered, which left room for only one area behind the goal posts to have track and field events instead of two.
“It is unfortunate,” Schofield said. “We did five, about five identical fields. That was the only field that was — and don't ask me why — but the track and the field were never centered.”
“We've always lived with a field that was not centered on the track, and I’ve been to 50 events down there — I was a principal at West Hall 100 years ago — and I never really paid much attention to the fact that it was off-center,” Schofield said. “But 99% of football fields and soccer fields you see are centered inside the tracks they are on, and one of the reasons is that it allows you to have room for your track and field events inside the ring. And so it made a lot of sense when somebody looked at the rendering and said, ‘Oh, shoot, we need to shift this a little bit so you can fit everything in here.’
But that shift created more problems.
The project was contracted to FieldTurf USA for about $1.8 million, but “there is plenty of blame to go around,” Schofield said. “In all truthfulness, they messed up and we messed up.”
“Our folks and their folks just missed the fact that, ‘Wait a minute, when you sit down in the press box and look up, you're going to be looking at the 41 yard line, not the 50 yard line,” he said.
Krofton Montgomery, head coach of the West Hall Spartans, said the oversight “is not going to affect the game.” The stadium lights, however, are now also off-center, and when asked whether it might be more difficult to play without proper lighting, he said, “I went ahead and checked that on Saturday morning, and everything's covered with light, so I think we're OK.”
“I think they're going to come out and move a couple of lights, just kind of adjust them and stuff of that nature, so it's all stuff the county's aware of, doing what they can to get it taken care of,” he said. “We’re just trying to focus on our opponents. As a coach, and our players, we’re excited just to have home games coming up and a field to practice on, so that’s where we’re at.”
Officials said the press box will likely be moved to the center and bleachers added on the sparse end, though renovations have not been formally approved by the education board, nor a timeline proposed.
“We would approve that,” said board chair Craig Herrington. “But we're not sure what kind of timeframe we're looking at,” though it probably will not be finished by the end of next year, he added. Herrington said he received a few emails and saw some comments on social media from upset parents when the field was first installed.
“Everybody was shocked with it, and I understand that,” he said.” It’s one of those things, yes, we were all kind of shocked that it was off by that much, but after thinking about it for a while and looking at our options, in the long run I think it's gonna be best to go ahead and move the press box and do the bleachers.”
“In a perfect world, we would have seen that and said, ‘All right, what are we going to do?” Schofield said. “My gut tells me we would have done the same thing, just with a phase two to say, ‘We’ll just stretch this pressbox out a little bit and pull it right back over to center.’ But again, it would have been nice not to have that surprise at the eleventh hour.”
And while it is not clear how much the fix might cost, Schofield said it would not be too costly or time consuming. “It’s significant, but it's not a major, major project,” he said.
This is not the first roadblock for the West Hall field. Promises to install the synthetic turf by Sept. 3 were not fulfilled, according to earlier Times reporting.
Officials have said that most people hardly notice the field is off-center when watching games or practices.
“If we quit talking about it, 99.7% of the people who ever come in there, all they'd say is, ‘Man, what a beautiful facility this is,’” Schofield said. “You can be a complaint looking for a problem, or you can take on an attitude of being thankful for the incredible things we have, and that field is going to be one of them.”