Originally created 02/23/01

Education board will take over stadium



Waycross, Ga., and the Ware County school board are nearing an agreement to swap the city's Memorial Stadium for the board's former administrative offices.

Officials from both sides say the school system would be better equipped to finance and perform work on the stadium to improve its condition.

The 53-year-old stadium is considered a landmark, dominating the view from U.S. Highway 1, the city's main street.

The stadium is the former home of a minor league baseball team.

City Manager Bucky Heys said the issue was raised after Ware County boosters complained about the poor condition of the field.

The county Board of Education would be more likely to qualify for grants to pay for the work, and it already has a staff that maintains three practice fields, one each for band, football and soccer, board Chairman Bryant H. Bower Jr. said.

The board also wants to preserve the stadium for its historical value, Superintendent Ricky Brantley said.

"It's part of our community," he said.

Mr. Bower said it appears to be a good deal for both sides, and he has heard of no public opposition.

"It's really a tax burden to the citizens of the city," Mr. Bower said. "It's hard to put tax money into a facility they're not using exclusively for their citizens."

The building the city wants is mostly empty, used only to house the school board's maintenance office.

The building was once the central offices for the Waycross Board of Education, but voters abandoned the city's independent school charter in 1990. Ware County took over the school system in 1991.

If the trade is made, Waycross will get badly needed space to house its traffic division and building maintenance staff, which are now housed beneath the stands of Memorial Stadium, Mr. Heys said.

"We only have six or seven people, but there's not a lot of space," he said.

The stadium fielded its first team in 1948. The Waycross Bears played in Class D of the minor leagues. But baseball has long since abandoned cities of Waycross' size.

In years that have come after, the city has had a hard time keeping the field in shape. Ware County played all its home football and soccer games there, and youth football games were played almost every night.

City officials say Waycross is not really in the business of caring for an athletic field because it has only one.

The field is not the only issue - the stadium itself needs work, Mr. Bower said. Although seating is adequate, the stadium needs more and better restrooms and a larger press box, he said.

"It needs upgrading, and the city can't really justify it," he said.

The city gets $15,000 a year in rental fees, and that isn't enough to pay for the upkeep, Mr. Heys said.