The renovations at Blankenship Field, including the installation of synthetic turf, won’t start until after this year’s football season ends, officials said Thursday.
At one time, there had been hopes that the renovation work would have started this past January and be finished by this June. Then, after an $800,000 contract was approved in June, there had still been the possibility that the work could be complete this summer, on or around the first home football game in August.
But on Thursday, the City of Oak Ridge announced a decision to wait until the Oak Ridge High School football season is complete to begin the renovations.
“The decision was based on the contractor’s estimate that the project could not be completed without impacting the first three home football games,” a city press release said.
“Regrettably, the grant approval process took much longer than anyone anticipated, but that is finally completed,” Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch said. “We are going to have a state-of-the-art football field and a gathering place that the entire city will be proud of.”
There have been reports of administrative hurdles associated with the state grant that is helping to fund the project.
Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson explained the rationale behind the decision announced Thursday.
“Rescheduling three home football games would have significant impacts on the Oak Ridge Schools, the football team, students, band members, cheerleaders, parents, and other fans,” Watson said in the press release. “While disappointing, the parties agreed that postponing construction until after the football season ends is the best approach under the circumstances in order to give the construction team the necessary time to complete the renovations.”
Members of the Blankenship Field Revitalization Foundation met with the City of Oak Ridge and Oak Ridge Schools three times in the last two weeks to determine if project construction could start now or would interfere with the football season, said David Bradshaw, treasurer of the foundation.
“Final conversations with the contractor indicated that project could be completed by September 10, requiring differing location options to be considered for three home games,” Bradshaw said. “This was not acceptable to the group, and the decision was made to delay construction until the end of the season.”
“This project involves coordination among city and school work crews and equipment, as well as the contractor,” said Oak Ridge Schools Superintendent Bruce Borchers. “With an already tight timeframe that could be impacted by the weather, I am confident that the decision to postpone is prudent given all of the community resources at stake.”
Oak Ridge Board of Education Chairman Keys Fillauer said the school board is disappointed that this project could not be completed for this season, but understands the need for the delay in order to “make sure that a quality project is completed.” The project will be completed for the 2019 graduation and the 2019 football season, Fillauer said.
The project is helped by a $496,000 Local Parks and Recreation Fund grant from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. The grant will receive an equal match from the Blankenship Field Revitalization Foundation.
The funds, totaling roughly $1 million, will be used to make a number of upgrades to the facility, including, but not limited to, installation of synthetic turf, concrete walkways, synthetic track, new fencing, signage for the Cedar Hill Greenway trail head, and additional restrooms, the press release said. All work is expected to be completed by April 30, 2019, the press release said.
The TDEC grant includes a stipulation that the entire facility be open for public use during non-event times. To meet that requirement, Blankenship Field and its amenities will be operated like a city park, meaning it will be open to the public from dawn until dusk every day. The only exception would be during scheduled sporting events or other scheduled community activities that may take place inside the facility throughout the year. The city has coordinated with the Oak Ridge Board of Education to create a joint operational agreement for management and maintenance of the stadium facilities, the press release said.
TDEC has overseen the community’s plans and gave approval to issue a notice to proceed on Monday, July 9. The city has split the project with the replacement of the field turf first, the press release said. The contractor Field Turf has been selected as the provider through a national bidding consortium.
“On behalf of the city, I want to thank the Blankenship Field Revitalization Foundation, all of the citizens, businesses, and boosters who have donated to the project, and a special thanks to Deputy Governor Jim Henry, Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally, and Mayor Pro Tem Rick Chinn for their leadership,” Gooch said.
About Blankenship Field: For more than 70 years, Blankenship Field has been the home of the Oak Ridge High School Wildcat football team. The facility, named after former superintendent Alden Blankenship, is located on Broadway Avenue near Historic Jackson Square. After opening in 1943, it quickly become the largest gathering place for Manhattan Project workers and their families. Learn more at blankenshiplegacy.org/.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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