After inspectors found "dangerous" deterioration at Vero Beach high school's football stadium earlier this fall, our investigators started looking to see if dangers have gone unnoticed at other schools.
We started with the Palm Beach County School District because it's the largest school district in our area with 23 high school stadiums. We dug through inspection reports from the last ten years. While most stadiums had only minor issues noted by inspectors, we found at least two stadiums with documented safety and structural issues that have been put off for years.
The first is at Atlantic Community High School. It's football team had a sterling season. They reached 12-0 before losing in the playoffs the day after Thanksgiving. However, home games for the nearly perfect squad were anything but.
"The entire home bleachers were taken out of service," said Palm Beach County School District Spokeswoman Kathy Burstein.
Burstein says the district had to mothball all 4,500 seats in the home grand stands out of an abundance of caution.
"Safety and security of our students is definitely our top priority," said Burstein.
But Contact 5 has learned the inspector pointed out premature deterioration of the Atlantic grand stands back in 2007 saying it "should be corrected as soon as possible."
So why wasn't eight years warning enough to make sure Atlantic could pack the stands in a banner year?
"We have a $625,000,000 shortfall in our capital budget right now," said Burstein.
A shortfall projected over the next 5 years. Meaning, too many Palm Beach County schools need too many improvements and there's simply not enough money to do them all.
Another stadium with well documented safety concerns: Inlet Grove Charter School.
"It is a concern because we would like to have proper equipment," said Asst. Principal Francisco Lopez.
Lopez says the design of the grand stands is out dated and leaves large dangerous gaps between foot boards and seat boards. A problem inspectors began documenting in 2004 when the campus was still Suncoast High School.
"We rent this property from the school district of Palm Beach County and we see it hasn't been remodeled as it should be," said Lopez.
But the lease agreement between Inlet Grove and PBC schools explains Inlet agreed to take the property "as is" and the school district would only be responsible for necessary repairs at the main school building.
"Do you have concerns yourself about the bleachers, about the stadium in terms of safety?" asked Contact 5 Investigator Jared Werksma. "Yeah, when my son's up there," said Inlet Grove's head football coach and athletic director. Terry Bradden Jr. Bradden says he and his team took some of the stadium issues into their own hands.
"My motto was make my trash my treasure," said Bradden.
He and his football team repainted the run down stands over the summer. Bradden says he used it as a team building event and an opportunity to empower his students to take pride in their school.
"It takes a lot to be here because you know we're like the under dog school," said Inlet Grove senior Tim Kimbrough.
84% of Inlets students are on free or reduced lunch. The school says it simply doesn't have the resources to repair or replace it's grand stands.
Kimbrough says painting the stands with his teammates was symbolic of their schools struggle.
"When Sun Coast left they really, people forgot about this school and we just wanted to bring our school back on the map," said Kimbrough.
Inlet Grove has started a campaign to raise $250,000. Bradden says if they reach their goal the school will apply for a grant through the National Football League, which promises to match the schools contribution. That would give Inlet Grove $500,000 which Bradden says it would use to build a brand new stadium. So far, Bradden says the school has raised $10,000. The school is hopeful more donors will step forward to help with the fundraising efforts.
As for Atlantic High School, PBC schools says it's too early in the process to know if the grand stands in the football stadium will need to be repaired or replaced. At this point, the district doesn't even have an estimate of the costs involved and there is no time frame for if or when the grand stands will be back in use.