Note: This story was updated at 9:15 a.m. March 25.
The Oak Ridge Board of Education on Monday unanimously approved a $455,000 project to replace the visitor bleachers at Blankenship Field. The bleachers had been deemed unsafe, and they have already been demolished.
School officials are hoping to replace them before the first home football game on Aug. 29. In a unanimous voice vote Monday, the school board agreed to use the school system’s fund balance to pay for the replacement bleachers.
Board members plan to ask city officials for additional help to finish part of the project, including a $69,000 handicapped ramp with switchbacks from the city-owned parking lot below the field up to the city-owned field, which is at Jack Armstrong Stadium in central Oak Ridge. The ramp could be built when the city renovates the parking lot.
“It’s a major place in our city,” school board member Dan DiGregorio said. “It could be argued that, on a Friday night, Blankenship is Oak Ridge.”
School officials said they don’t have much time. There are about 135 days left before the start of the football season this fall. Officials said delays in the work could reduce its quality or add to the costs.
“We really don’t have a choice,” school board member Angi Agle said.
School officials have met with city officials to discuss the project. They don’t have a formal commitment from the city yet, but “there was a spirit of partnership,” Oak Ridge Schools Superintendent Bruce Borchers said.
Proposals to replace the bleachers were accepted through Friday. School administrators had recommended a proposal from Dant Clayton Corp. of Louisville, Ky. It was the lowest of two qualified bids.
Allen Thacker, Oak Ridge Schools maintenance and operations supervisor, said the project could cost another $40,000 if the Wildcat Crossing stairs on the home side of the field are reconditioned
Inspectors had determined that the visitor bleachers were no longer safe for fans, would have cost too much to repair, and should be demolished immediately. The Oak Ridge Board of Education unanimously agreed to demolish them in January. The work was done by Oak Ridge Schools maintenance staff, and it took about two weeks.
The seating capacity of the visitor bleachers will be reduced from 3,400 to 2,000 seats, and the new bleachers will be compliant with the American with Disabilities Act.
Members of a Blankenship Revitalization Committee have attended recent City Council and School Board meetings and urged local officials to work together to pay for the new bleachers. The committee, which is chaired by Athletic Director Mike Mullins, is working on a separate initiative for a more comprehensive revamp of Jack Armstrong Stadium and Blankenship Field that could cost several million dollars. Committee members have said that funding commitments from the city and school officials for the bleachers would send a positive signal to potential stadium donors, including out-of-town alumni. The renovations could be the first major changes at Blankenship Field since 1975.
More information will be added as it becomes available.