The Oak Ridge City Council on Monday unanimously authorized a grant application for synthetic turf on Blankenship Field.
If approved by Tennessee officials, the grant could be worth up to $500,000. It would be matched by the Blankenship Field Revitalization Foundation, a nonprofit organization chaired by Tennessee Senator Randy McNally.
The synthetic turf is part of the first phase of a multi-million-dollar proposal to renovate Blankenship Field and Jack Armstrong Stadium.
The application approved by City Council in a 7-0 vote on Monday is for a Local Parks and Recreation Fund grant from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. The requested grant funding could range between $250,000 and $500,000. The grant requires a 50 percent match.
Officials said the synthetic turf, which is different than artificial turf, would replicate lush natural grass and require less maintenance than the current playing surface, Bermuda grass. It would also increase playability, is more durable than grass, and eliminates the problem of spring and fall rains, advocates said. They said the synthetic turf could save 50,000 gallons of water per week during the growing season and lead to fewer injuries.
It would not require pesticides or fertilizers, and it would allow Blankenship Field and Jack Armstrong Stadium to be used as a multi-purpose facility that could feature music, sports, and community events, officials said.
“This thing is not just a football field,” Oak Ridge High School Athletic Director Mike Mullins said. “This thing could really be used a lot.”
The estimated total cost of the project, including new ornamental fencing around the playing surface, is $1 million. The Foundation could provide matching funds as either cash or in-kind services secured from private donors.
The City of Oak Ridge would not be obligated to accept the grant if the Foundation doesn’t raise the matching funds, City Manager Mark Watson said.
The application is due in April, and the grants will be awarded in August, Mullins said. If the city receives the grant, it won’t be in time for the 2016 football season.
Other area schools are also considering or working on installing synthetic turf, including in Anderson and Knox counties, while others are already using it. And that’s reported to be important to student-athletes.
“If we don’t go forward with this project, we are going to lose kids,” Mullins said. “If we don’t have it, they are going to go somewhere else.”
He said the synthetic turf could last 10-12 years, and the replacement could cost $300,000 to $350,000.
Other projects included in the first phase of the work at Blankenship Field and Jack Armstrong Stadium include installation of an LED scoreboard with video and media options, a new entrance with ticket booths at field level, and new fencing, visitors concessions and restrooms, and home side bleachers and grandstand.
It’s a very ambitious project, Mullins said, but Foundation volunteers are confident that they will be where they need to be at the time the grant is submitted.
Phase II of the stadium renovation would include a new home side stadium with expanded locker rooms, press box, and club seating and communications.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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