Editor’s note: A final decision on Olvey Field was made Tuesday evening after the newspaper already had gone to press. An update will be in Friday’s edition of the Courier.
A heated debate over the cost of repairing and updating Olvey Field unfolded Monday at the Liberty County Board of Education office when members of the public, who had been invited by board members, offered input and voiced concerns about the millions of dollars that may be poured into Bradwell Institute’s playing field.
“We thank you for coming out … it is improvement and improvement that is needed,” BoE Chairwoman Lily Baker told the audience of about 10 residents, coaches and local footballs fans.
The total construction cost is expected to level off somewhere around $7.2 million.
Architects from Altman + Barrett Architects gave a presentation of the current progress and listed coaches’, board members’ and players’ major field-safety concerns.
“It would cost more money to leave it in this position than doing it correctly,” project architect Walter Altman said.
Ideally, the Valdosta design firm would like the stadium to have 6,000 seats, and they want to add 596 parking spaces to the lot.
The firm also is looking to switch the orientation of the field to fit the Georgia High School Sports Association’s current codes and to avoid the cost of having to acquire city-owned property to ensure the length of the field is long enough for both soccer and football games. The design also includes an emergency-vehicle entrance around the property to allow easy access in case of an emergency, such as when a player is injured.
After the presentation, audience members posed questions to BoE members and the architects. Speakers had a three-minute time limit to ask questions and make comments.
Ed Edwards, former LCSS superintendent and a football fan, said he doesn’t understand why the cost is so high and why the field’s orientation needs to be switched.
“I have seen more football games on the Bradwell Institute Field than anyone dead or alive,” Edwards said. “I’m opposed to the board spending $7.2 million on this field … if we have 1,500 at a game, we’re lucky. I think it’s ridiculous.”
Bradwell Institute head football coach and athletic director Jim Walsh knows exactly why the BoE is looking to update and improve the field, and at such an expensive cost: liability.
“Here’s what I’m looking at legally: That field’s got to widen, any way you cut the deck,” Walsh said. “Lawsuits are going off left and right … your responsibilities are to the fans, the visiting team and the players.”
Although several frustrated residents voiced opposition to the total cost, BoE members ultimately have to make the final decision and keep students’ safety in mind, Baker said.
“We will make that decision to the best of our abilities,” Baker said. “We don’t want to spend any more than we don’t have to. We don’t.”
BoE member Carol Guyett said although she is concerned about the cost of the field, she is more worried about the condition of Olvey and the safety of current and future students.
“I’m more concerned about the safety,” said Guyett, who regularly attends games. “The field’s got to be moved. You don’t have the sidelines (you need). I know people are upset, but we’ve got to look at the whole picture, too.”