On Tuesday evening, the Liberty County Board of Education voted to continue with the complete makeover of Bradwell Institute’s Olvey Field.
Five board members voted yes and two abstained from the vote that approved an overhaul that will cost an estimated $7.2 million and will ensure the playing field’s safety regulations are up-to-date. Construction of a new practice field, field house and parking spaces is expected to be completed in time for the 2011 football season, Deputy Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Conley said.
“With today’s economy, we would expect the estimate to be lower based on the first phase being bid under budget,” Conley said.
“I am happy that the board voted to make the changes and I appreciate their presence at the community forum. I would also like to thank the community members who cared enough to take time out of their busy schedules to attend the forum and participate in the discussion,” she said of Monday’s community forum where residents offered input.
Over the past few months, discussions of rotating the field to a north-south orientation have caused a stir among residents who are bound to the idea of keeping with tradition. The new orientation would comply with the Georgia High School Sports Association and allow for emergency vehicles to pass around the stadium with ease, Conley said. The length of the new field also will be long enough for both soccer and football games and would put the field back on BoE property. Currently, it crosses over BoE property lines on two sides.
To those who feel the field upgrade is long overdue, the project is worth the proposed cost.
“We had some issues we felt like we needed to address from a legality standpoint. That was my main concern. Unfortunately, with the way things are, suing is quite frequent,” Bradwell Institute head coach and athletic director Jim Walsh said. “I’m glad it’s done (the vote). I’m like anybody else. You have to use common sense. Cost is a big issue, but if something were to happen, it’s going to cost a lot more. All those problems are now resolved.”
The new field house and practice field currently are under construction as part of phase one of the school system’s master plan.
“The main reason that we are renovating the field is to ensure safety of the players (home and visitors), the student body and the fans. The current layout of the field does not provide enough room between the sidelines and the stands. It does not meet the soccer field regulations for our soccer games that are currently played on that field. It does not allow the access of emergency vehicles ‘on all sides’ as is required,” Conley said. “The field/bleachers have to be addressed. There is not enough room to make all of the required revisions and leave the field in its current orientation. It is actually cheaper to turn the field and make the revisions because we would incur the same costs. Additional costs would be involved if we attempt to make the corrections without turning the field. Turning the field was not the driving factor in this project — safety, liability, space, parking, property lines and cost were the driving factors for these changes. Turning the field was the best way to meet the criteria.”
After a short discussion and a few questions directed at the architects from Altman+Barrett Architects, board members were asked to make their final decision on the field.
BoE Vice Chairwoman Verdell Jones asked project architect Walter Altman whether he had more information than what was given Monday evening at the community forum. When Altman said no, Jones chose to abstain from voting for what she called “a lack of information” on all the construction options. BoE member Harold Woods agreed and also abstained, but both members agreed that they would support a decision by the board to correct the field-safety issues.
“It’s not that I’m ignoring any of the liability issues or safety issues. I’m first and foremost of those. It’s just that when we have an option to make a selection from A to B and we don’t get all of the information, I’m just not comfortable with the guessing side,” Jones said. “I support the decision of the board. I have just decided that I have to have peace with all the information before I can spend that kind of money.”
Board member Marcia Anderson made a trip to Olvey Field before the board meeting to look at everything that had concerned architects, coaches and other board members.
“I appreciate the information you gave us last night,” Anderson told Altman. “It had enlightened me to things that I had not seen as a spectator that when you look at it differently when you’re there watching a ball game than what you do going to look for these issues. I saw some things today that I had never seen before that alarmed me terribly that we need to address immediately. So I am very concerned about the cost, and I hope we do it as (inexpensively) as possible while addressing all the safety issues.”
Construction already is under way, but the schedule will be tight. Work is expected to be completely finished by the 2012 football season, Conley said.
“We will be as proactive as possible and keep the public informed of our progress throughout the project,” the deputy superintendent said.
The next public BoE meeting will be at 9 a.m. May 24 in the BoE boardroom.