The Russell County School Board heard proposals about possible athletic facilities upgrades on Wednesday that would affect many of the district’s sports teams.
The primary proposal that was discussed during the special-called meeting would see construction at the location of the current track. The new complex would include a turf field to be used for football, soccer and band competitions, an upgraded track with a synthetic surface, and turf on the current baseball field.
Discussions about construction on a new track have been ongoing for several years, spurring the present proposal.
Supt. Michael Ford said the idea to expand the track construction into a larger-scale project first began because combining projects would save the district money in the long run. In the past, Ford said the district’s athletic facilities have been “piecemealed” together, addressing problems as they came up. The current proposal would solve several problems at once and positively “impact hundreds of students” — according to Ford — across multiple sports.
“What really opened the door for this,” Ford said, is a new development in the state legislature: House Bill 678.
On Friday, Gov. Andy Beshear signed House Bill 678, which had bipartisan support in the House and Senate and went into effect immediately.
“This has opened the door for schools to use their restricted funds on athletic facilities,” Ford said. “So, in the past, when we talked about building that new track, and if we were going to, you know, move to turf on the football field or the baseball field, soccer, whatever, those are general fund issues. And that’s the same monies that we have to use pay light bills, give raises, buy textbooks, and all those things. House Bill 678 opens a lot of doors for us.”
While two proposals were distributed to board members to look over, the majority of discussion revolved around a $6.6 million project that would include all of the ideas presented. The other potential project — with a $2.4 million estimated price tag—revolved around turfing the current baseball and football fields and not separating them. This idea did not generate much discussion from the board.
Jonathan Smith, of Branscum Construction and one of two presenters of the proposal, said the $6.6 million option would take roughly 12-14 months to finish, with the project completed in phases.
Smith also added that the turf fields would need maintenance in approximately 15 years and would cost around $400,000-$500,000 at that time. They would also need small, year-to-year maintenance but wouldn’t require any of the consistent — sometimes daily — maintenance that the grass fields currently require.
The $6.6 million is for construction costs, and the proposal carried a 5-percent contingency, which comes to around $330,000.
The potential benefits for athletic department programs
Within the discussion, the need for upgrades at several of the athletic facilities was addressed.
Russell County’s current track and field facilities don’t meet several of the requirements for hosting a regional track meet, such as having eight lanes and a synthetic surface. In fact, according to MileSplit KY, Russell County hasn’t hosted a track and field meet of any kind within the last 10 years, which is as far back as the website’s data tracks.
Russell County’s soccer teams are also unable to host any type of district or region tournaments because the lighting situation at the current field does not meet the requirements. Currently, the boosters pay to have lights run by generators in order to play night games.
While soccer fields are wider than a regulation football field, the additional materials to make it a combination soccer-football field adds less than $10,000 total to the cost, according to Doug Gooch from AGE Engineering out of Stanford, who delivered the other half of the proposal. Adding the necessary lighting at the current soccer field would be more than $100,000, Gooch estimated.
“Soccer has begged for lights since they started playing on that field,” Athletic Director Michael Carpenter said. “If you’ve been to a soccer game at night … we have lighting, but it’s bare minimum. It’s dark in patches … They’re run by generators so you have to fire them up, and they’re loud.”
Ford also pointed to the band as beneficiaries from this proposal. The marching band practices — and has for many years — in the Russell County Middle School parking lot. Ford said the new proposal would give the band a new place to practice and would also allow them to host competitions.
“I want to say that it was, like, $10,000, [Band Director Curtis Ervin] said you could guesstimate, for the band to host a competition,” Ford said. “If they got to host one competition, the band program would generate around $10,000 that would go right back into their program.”
From a football perspective, the Lakers would be gaining a new turf field but would also benefit from the newly constructed concession stands, bathrooms, and fieldhouse that would go along with the project.
Tim Popplewell was one of the community members in attendance at the meeting who spoke in favor of the project, especially in regards to the new football facilities.
“I’ve been involved with football, whether it’s youth league, kindergarten, and all the way up, for about the past 14-15 years,” Popplewell said. “We’ve talked about this a lot, seeing different renditions, but this is hands down the best visionary plan that I’ve ever seen. I’d like to voice my support for it and appreciate those who’ve done the work to come up with this.
“And like Mr. Ford said, this kind of creates a new culture for Russell County athletics, just as a whole being able to involve so many different kids from different aspects into it. It looks great. I appreciate everybody’s effort for that.”
The baseball team’s primary benefit from the proposal will be the turf field — allowing for fewer weather-related cancellations — and the fact that, while much of the construction will be taking place near the baseball field, the actual field and dugouts will all remain intact.
Carpenter said he had talked Tuesday to baseball coach David Rexroat and that he was “very excited” about the possible project.
Overall, Carpenter noted that, from an athletic director’s standpoint, the proposal is an intriguing one because it positively affects so many different athletic programs, which in turn affects so many students.
“Well, I think the biggest positive for me as athletic director is the number of students this is going to impact across the middle school and high school,” Carpenter said. “We’re not just looking at one group. Track is going to have positive effects, you’ve got baseball and their rich tradition, you’ve got football, you’ve got band, you’ve got soccer … It’s going to impact a lot of students.”
No formal action was taken on any of the proposals, but the school board’s regularly scheduled meeting is set for Monday, April 11, at 5 p.m.