Tommy Oliver unlikely to be finished for 2017 football season

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Construction is about 35 percent complete, according to Facilities Director John Bozarth, with crews focusing on putting up the masonry for the home side of the stadium.

ERYN DION News Herald Reporter @PCNHErynDion

PANAMA CITY — Don’t expect to attend games this year in Tommy Oliver Stadium this year.

The stadium likely will not be ready in time for the season that begins in August, officials said.

In December, while the School Board was reckoning with the sticker shock of rebuilding Tommy Oliver Stadium, the construction project managers at GAC promised there would be football at the stadium for the fall season. Vice President Derwin White said at a Dec. 15 meeting, “You will have football. We just can’t guarantee the visitor’s side will be done.”

But by the time the new $9.5 million plan was approved Jan. 24, the project already had been delayed two months. That delay, plus liability issues, makes it highly unlikely anyone will see football at Tommy Oliver this year.

Although the original plan was to build the home side of the stadium and install the field while construction on the visitor side was ongoing, White explained that scenario created an unforeseen liability issue with their insurance company, who said once the district starts playing on the field, the field — and stadium — will belong to the district and they would need to assume responsibility for the insurance.

“When they start playing football on that field, that field belongs to them,” White said.

That creates a two-pronged problem, he said. First, White said GAC typically completes a field and gives their customer a three-year warranty, where they will cover damage to the grass and surrounding area. Playing football on the field would void that warranty, and looking at when the turf is scheduled to be put down and when football season would start, White said there is not enough time for the grass to establish itself and have enough growth to avoid being heavily damaged by the football season. Because there would be no warranty, the district would have to eat the cost of repairing the field.

“My recommendation to them is to not play on the field until it has had more growth time,” White said.

Second, the district potentially would be creating the “huge liability,” White said, of having members of the public around an active construction zone. White said he has spoken to members of the School Board about this and advised they should skip this year’s football season at the stadium, but he ultimately would do as they asked.

“Whatever the School Board’s desire is, that’s what we’re going to do,” he said.

School Board member Steve Moss said he had spoken with White and believes GAC is “working as hard as they can to deliver the completed stadium to the district as soon as possible,” but “it indeed looks as though the stadium will not be ready for the 2017-2018 football season. …”

He also said that in December, the football coaches were told to plan their 2017-2018 schedules as if Tommy Oliver would not be an option and that they could adjust later if that changed. GAC’s contract did not include a provision requiring the company to finish the project in time for this football season.

While the stadium won’t be ready in time for this season, the target March 2018 completion date means the stadium will be ready to make its debut in May for the 2018 graduations.

“Our graduations are traditionally the largest events we have at the stadium and will serve as an awesome opportunity to show off the completed project to the community and guests,” Moss said.

Construction is about 35 percent complete, according to Facilities Director John Bozarth, with crews focusing on putting up the masonry for the home side of the stadium.

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