Massive copper theft could delay athletic complex

Published 10:16 am Tuesday, January 29, 2013

CHESAPEAKE — The investigation into the theft of tens of thousands worth of copper piping from the Chesapeake schools athletic complex continues.

Representatives from J&H Erectors discovered the theft over the weekend. The copper was taken from a structure that is to house public restrooms, locker rooms for visiting teams and the concession stand.

“As much effort that has gone into that complex to have someone come in and take advantage and steal,” Chesapeake school superintendent Jerry McConnell said. “You are stealing from students, from our community.”

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More than a year ago, the school district’s board of education decided to demolish the aging football stadium, replacing it with a $3 million modern football-soccer-track complex. That decision meant that this year’s seniors would not be able to play on their home turf. However school officials’ goal was to have it ready by spring track meet season.

“The contractor stated he anticipated $40,000 in theft and damage,” McConnell said. “That is unconfirmed from the school district’s aspect. We have not talked with him personally. We are only now coming up with totals.”

Sheriff Jeff Lawless said his detectives have been going through surveillance video to see who had been coming onto the property and checking with scrap yards.

“It is a lot of leg work,” Lawless said. “Metal theft is very common throughout the Tri-State. It slowed down for awhile when metal prices went up. Now it is on the rise again. We are taking this thing very seriously. There is a lot of damage at the taxpayers’ expense.”

McConnell said officials had had security measures in place for the construction that has been ongoing since the fall.

“It just so happened at this point in the construction it was necessary to have certain types of material exposed and someone or several individuals had apparently watched this very carefully,” the superintendent said. “The copper they seemed to have been after was only exposed in a very short time and we planned to have it covered in the very, very near future.”

The project was basically on target as far construction of bleachers and buildings. The main delay was not getting asphalt on the track before the asphalt plants closed in November.

The district’s next move is to sit down with the contractor and determine a new building schedule.

“We took as many precautions as we could and now we are going to accumulate as much evidence,” McConnell said. “We are trying to put together as group that would discuss our options. This has taken place quite rapidly. We are gathering evidence and putting together some ideas on how we might we respond in the future who has come upon the property.

“I am not giving up on the fact we might find out who did this.”