Accepting a state grant of $480,000 for Blankenship Field, primarily for synthetic turf, means that the facilities must be open to the public.
But there could be exceptions for previously scheduled events that are coordinated through the Oak Ridge school system.
Keeping the facilities open is part of an operational agreement with Oak Ridge Schools that was amended in a 7-0 vote by Oak Ridge City Council on Monday, November 13.
“The important thing is that it’s just not locked up,” Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson told City Council during that meeting. Residents have to be able to use the property.
Watson said there will be a bathroom available, and the facilities will be open sunrise to sunset. There could be field rentals, Watson said.
The total project is estimated at $1 million.
The Local Parks and Recreation Fund grant from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation 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. The foundation has been chaired by Tennessee Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the Senate Randy McNally.
Besides the synthetic turf, the state grant 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, officials said in January.
“It’s an incredible opportunity for the City of Oak Ridge,” said Rick Chinn, Oak Ridge mayor pro tem, during the City Council meeting last week. “This is part of an ongoing process.”
Chinn said more than $500,000 has been raised in time volunteered, in-kind contributions, and “cold, hard cash”—and more money is coming in.
Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch said officials knew that Blankenship Field would have to be open for public use. (Oak Ridge Today reported in January that, 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.)
Oak Ridge Today has previously reported that the city and schools had approved a management agreement related to the TDEC grant. 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.
The Oak Ridge Board of Education is scheduled to consider an amendment to the operational agreement during a 6 p.m. meeting on Monday, November 27. Here’s the language of that amendment:
“The city and schools will comply with all grant provisions on facilities funded by and/or within LPRF (Local Parks and Recreation Fund) grant protected boundary, including, but not limited to, the requirement that facilities meet and are available for public recreation.”
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 2016. “This thing could really be used a lot.”
It’s not clear yet when the work at Blankenship Field will start. No start date has been publicly announced.
The estimated total cost of the project, including new ornamental fencing around the playing surface, is $1 million.
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 installed synthetic turf the past few years, including in Anderson and Knox counties.
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 2016.
See the City Council agenda for the November 13 meeting here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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