County Council Bucks Up for Failing Perdue Stadium Systems

County Council Bucks Up for Failing Perdue Stadium Systems

Shawn J. Soper
News Editor

SALISBURY- On the day of one of the most important events ever at Arthur W. Perdue Stadium, Wicomico officials on Tuesday learned the facility is starting to show its age and needs a major overhaul of its heating and air conditioning systems.

On Tuesday morning, just hours before Perdue Stadium was set to host the 2011 South Atlantic League All-Star Game, the Wicomico County Council received a request for a $134,000 expenditure from the county’s contingency fund for a major rehabilitation of the facility’s HVAC system. When the stadium was built 16 years ago with a private-public partnership, Wicomico County assumed responsibility for maintaining the structure and its utilities.

On Tuesday, Wicomico Director of Recreation, Parks and Tourism Gary Mackes told the County Council at least four of the massive HVAC units at the stadium were in immediate need of repair or replacement and as many as six others would need to be replaced in the near future. Mackes was seeking an allocation of $134,000 from the county’s contingency fund, either the bond contingency or the general fund contingency, for the immediate replacement of the four failing units along with engineering and costs estimates for the remaining 10.

“The stadium is now 16 years old, believe it or not, and it’s starting to show its age,” said Mackes. “The first shot over the bow was a failing railing system around the Foul Ball Café, but most recently, we’ve found the heating and air conditioning systems are starting to fail.”

According to Mackes, all of the stadium’s air handling systems needed an overhaul, but the four in question needed replacing immediately. He explained the Shorebirds had been making repairs to the system at their own expense, but the county was responsible for paying for the necessary replacements.

“The Shorebirds have already spend about $175,000-plus out their pocket on repairs, but the system now needs a significant overhaul,” said Mackes. “Frankly, I’m a little embarrassed with the All-Star game tonight [Tuesday] and the climate control systems aren’t working.”

Shorebirds General Manager Chris Bitters explained to the County Council the replacement of the four units, including those in the executive offices and at several concession stands around the ballpark were needed almost immediately.

“We ran into this problem and realized we couldn’t wait,” he said. “There are four we need almost immediately to conduct business. There are more that need repair or replacement, but those four are the top priority.”  

In a letter to the council late last month, Bitters revealed the problem to the county elected officials and explained how conditions were worsening with the change of seasons.

“In the month of May, when outside temperatures reached the 70-degree range, our administrative offices became uncomfortable,” he said. “Currently, with temperatures reaching the mid- to high 80-degree range, our offices are very uncomfortable and very soon, our temperatures will be exceeding the 80-degree mark, making our work environment intolerable. This work environment is going to be a determent to our staff’s ability to perform their job functions appropriately and have a severe impact on our business.”

Mackes told the council the total project was much larger than the four units that need immediate replacement, but suggested they allocate the entire request to have the engineering and specifications prepared for the other failing units at the same time.

“There are really 10 total that need replacing,” he said. “There are eight that could be replaced right now, and two more that are starting to head down that path, but the four are needed almost immediately.”

Some on the council questioned whether or not the specifications for the existing air handling system could be utilized, or at least modified, in order to save a little money on the replacement costs. However, Mackes explained much has changed in the industry in the years since the stadium was built and its HVAC systems were first installed.

“We’re talking about 16 years of technological advances,” he said. “I’d really be uncomfortable going through this without engineering. We really need a professional consultant.”

While the County Council agreed the funds needed to be allocated for the replacement of the four failing units and the remainder of the air handling system at the stadium, the question arose just how to fund it. Funds could be taken from either the general fund contingency, a pool of funds for rainy day or emergency projects, or the bond contingency, or funds left over from earlier bonded projects that had rolled over into a rainy day fund of sorts. In the end, it was decided to pay for the HVAC replacements out of the general fund contingency because the project was part of the county’s Capital Improvement Plan.

“It looks like it comes down to a decision between the bond contingency and the general fund contingency in terms of where to pay it from,” said Council President Gail Bartkovich. “We have some very expensive projects coming up and we have to prepare for that.”