ATLANTA - More questions tonight about how much taxpayers are paying for new synthetic turf playing fields at local county high schools.
It is becoming a familiar scene in Georgia. A school system wants to get rid of its grass fields. Put down shiny new artificial turf. Taxpayers pick up the tab. And then someone, cries out, wait, how much was that again?
“I think you are getting, in my opinion, taxpayers are getting hosed,” says Coweta School board member Linda Menk.
Menk is a voice in the wilderness in Coweta County. She is the only school board member to vote no on a 5.3-million-dollar contract for three new FieldTurf synthetic football fields and tracks.
Why is she upset? Nearby Cherokee County is putting in five new artificial fields and replacing a sixth field for less money and a longer warranty.
“This isn't just a little smoke. This is a fire,” says Menk.
We've seen this fire before.
Last year we reported the Fayette County school board ignored the low bidder and spent $500,000 more for FieldTurf football fields.
And that low bidder complained the bid specifications for the field were written to favor Field Turf
“It clearly looks like they had one particular product in mind when they speced it,” Sprintturf’s John Bogosian told us at the time.
In 2016, we traveled to Douglas County. Once again the school board ignored the lowest bidder and paid an additional $860,000 of taxpayer's money to get four new FieldTurf fields.
Again, a competitor was stunned.
“Shocked. Our initial reaction was they made a mistake,” said Sprinturf’s Rom Reddy.
So, when we heard about Coweta County's multi-million dollar fields we were curious. It didn't take long to see an issue that we have seen before. Bid specs are written to favor FieldTurf.
There were representatives from twelve companies who showed up and signed in at the pre-bid conference. Some of the same ones that placed bids in Fayette and Douglas counties.
But after the bid specifications came out - spelling out the size, shape, and composition of the turf - most of the companies lost interest. Only two companies placed bids.
Both companies were bidding a FieldTurf field.
Linda Menk, who has a background in real estate and construction projects, says the reason was simple.
“The specs that we sent out to these companies were written based on a Field Turf product,” said Menk.
One of the companies that decided not to bid even complained about it in a letter to county saying "The specification for Coweta County High School Fields can only be met by one manufacturer (FieldTurf) of synthetic turf."
On the night of the vote, Ken Pritchard of Southern A & E, who said he wrote those bid specifications for the county, denied it was tailored for just one company. And, he said the bid allowed bids on alternative turfs - even if they don't meet the specs.
“We had a performance spec that anybody could meet,” said Pritchard.
Technically that's true. You could submit an alternative bid in separate package. But two companies who chose not to bid - Sportsturf and Sprinturf - told us they felt submitting a bid would be a waste of time.
The winning bid was 5.3 million dollars for three football fields and upgraded track. An average of over 1.7 million per field.
But superintendent Dr. Steve Barker says when you strip away the new stadium lights, track upgrades and other expenses, the new fields cost an average of $809,918.
How does that compare to what other school systems are paying? A few weeks before the Coweta vote, Cherokee awarded a bid for new fields.
Many of the companies that initially expressed interest in Coweta, also submitted bids in Cherokee. A total of four different companies bid.
We took out extra track work, and site work like Dr. Barker did for the Coweta bid. That left an average cost of the fields is $636,757.
That's $173,161 less per field than Coweta is paying ... and that means, Coweta taxpayers are paying more than a half million dollars ($519,483) more for their fields.
“I feel like we are letting down our students and we're letting down our taxpayers. And, when I go out in the community and know I'm going to be asked about this. And I can't justify it,” said Menk.