Stepping forward

The bleachers at Dallas High School have tested at high levels for lead-based paint.

JOHN SCHULTE
The bleachers at Dallas High School have tested at high levels for lead-based paint.

DALLAS — The home bleachers at Gallaspy Stadium have long been considered a landmark among Dallas High School’s athletic facilities.

The stadium, originally built in 1965, may face future scrutiny that could lead to required improvements.

Dallas School District Facilities Manager Kevin Montague wants to make one thing clear: the stands at the football stadium are structurally sound.

But father time and changes in codes have caused the stands to land in a potentially difficult spot.

The bleachers fall short of today’s building codes passed in 2012 as an inspection revealed in January.

“None of the aisles meet current codes,” Montague said. “They aren’t the necessary widths. There are no handrails and the stairs are uneven, and that’s not compliant with current codes.”

The “crow’s nest” has one ladder leading up to it — a violation of codes requiring multiple exits in case of a fire.

At a March Citizen’s Oversight Committee meeting — a group that oversees how bond money approved by voters in 2014 is spent — Montague reported that “there are many concerns with the structure which may cause it, or at least the crow’s nest, to be shut down by the inspector.”

If a state fire marshal inspected the stands, he or she could force changes to be made.

“The fire marshal could come in and say you have to close the crow’s nest,” Montague said. “That could happen tomorrow. Our insurance has been pushing (to make these changes). If you have a plan, they give you some leeway if you can say this is what we’re going to do. Right now, we’re forming that plan.”

Montague said fire marshals have inspected the district multiple times over the past year.

The Citizen’s Oversight Committee is in the process of addressing the issues raised, Superintendent Michelle Johnstone said.

Woodburn High School faced similar issues with its grandstands in 2015.

“The steps themselves were out of code because the length of the steps was too long,” Woodburn Athletics Director Chad Waples said. “They had to shorten the steps by adding some additional ones. They also added hand rails that went down the middle of the aisle. We added a ramp because we only had one that was out of code. We added a complete stairwell that goes up to our crow’s nest and press box. Prior to that we had a secured ladder that went straight up.”

A fire marshal inspected the facility in 2015 and reported the findings to the facility supervisor, Waples said. The result was a closure of the grandstands throughout the entire football season.

“We could not allow the general public to use it because we were out of compliance with regulations,” Waples said.

What could confuse some is that the stands are not considered to be out of code by the city of Dallas because they are only responsible to meeting the codes of the time they were built, city building official Ted Cuno said.

“Only the local jurisdiction can issue red tags,” Montague said. “We have done several projects to enhance and upgrade the stadium where the local building official has signed off and never expressed any concern at all in regards to the usability of the facility.”

Any new renovations would have to be up to today’s standards and would require additional work to be done to bring the structure up to today’s codes, Montague said.

That includes remodeling the restrooms because ADA upgrades would be required.

“That would then trigger the decommissioning of the septic system, which serves the stadium, as well as trigger storm drainage solutions as the city code requires structures to be hooked to their system, which the stadium currently is not,” Montague said. “… Not to mention what we may need to do to allow teams and classes to train on the structure.”

Montague added the suggestions from inspections through the district’s insurance are just that — suggestions.

“They really have nothing to do with the code enforcement,” Montague said. “They want you to do it so you don’t have a similar (insurance) claim they’ve received in the past.”

That’s not a theory Woodburn subscribed too.

“If you don’t have handrails and someone falls down on your steps and breaks their leg, they’re coming after the person with the money, and that person with the money is the district,” Waples said.

And if a state fire marshal inspects a building, issues the inspector finds must be addressed, Cuno said.

“In general, building departments review and inspect buildings during construction or remodel before allowing occupancy, and fire marshals can inspect buildings after occupancy,” Cuno said.

The Citizen’s Oversight Committee, whose next meeting is Aug. 15, has been discussing the stadium repairs as well as other potential projects.

The stadium is part of a larger picture of items in need of work, Montague said. That includes cracks forming on the tennis courts, planning for the eventual resurfacing of the track and fixing of the drainage system.

An architect visited the high school last week to give early design thoughts and estimates of potential projects for the school’s overall facilities plan. The district hopes to receive information back in a few weeks.

“We’re doing the maintenance the best we can,” Montague said. “I’m proud of what we are able to do with the money we have.”

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