Oak Ridge has received a state grant of just under $500,000 that will be used primarily for synthetic turf at Blankenship Field. But it is also expected to help pay for track improvements, upgraded restrooms, fencing between the football field and track, and improvements to the Cedar Hill trailhead behind the visitors bleachers at Jack Armstrong Stadium, city officials said Thursday.
The Local Parks and Recreation Fund grant requires a 50 percent match. The match is supposed to be provided by the nonprofit Blankenship Field Revitalization Foundation, and it can be a mix of cash and in-kind contributions, although the precise percentage of each—cash versus in-kind contributions—isn’t clear yet. The foundation has been chaired by Tennessee Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the Senate Randy McNally.
Officials expect to know more after four of them—City Manager Mark Watson, City Council member Rick Chinn, Recreation and Parks Director Jon Hetrick, and Allen Thacker of Oak Ridge Schools—attend mandatory grant training in Nashville in February.
After that, the Oak Ridge City Council could accept the grant, possibly as early as the February 13 meeting.
The city hasn’t solicited bids for the work yet. It’s not clear when the work might start. Officials could know more after the training, Hetrick said.
By accepting public money for the work, the city will be required to allow more public uses at Jack Armstrong Stadium and Blankenship Field, including on the track, restrooms, and trailhead, Hetrick said. The field could be available for rentals.
The city and schools have approved a management agreement related to the grant, which is from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. Oak Ridge Schools will be responsible for day-to-day management, and the City of Oak Ridge, which actually owns the facility, will have overall management and be responsible for replacing the turf when that becomes necessary.
Before applying for the grant last year, 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, would be more durable than grass, and eliminate 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 in March. “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, Watson said last year. On Thursday, Oak Ridge Today wasn’t able to confirm if the Foundation currently has the matching funds available.
Mullins has said the synthetic turf could last 10-12 years, and the replacement could cost $300,000 to $350,000.
Other area schools have also recently installed synthetic turf, including in Anderson and Knox counties. And that’s reported to be important to student-athletes.
The City Council unanimously supported the grant application for synthetic turf at Blankenship Field in March last year. It’s part of the first phase of a multi-million-dollar proposal to renovate Blankenship Field and Jack Armstrong Stadium.
Other projects previously reported to be 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.
Phase II of the stadium renovation would include a new home side stadium with expanded locker rooms, press box, and club seating and communications, Oak Ridge Today reported in March.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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