Originally created 10/25/02

New stadiums in Richmond County will ease burden on several teams



When Glenn Hills opens the 2003 football season, coach Felix Curry and his Spartans might not have to travel three miles for their home games.

In November, the Richmond County Board of Education will accept bids from contractors to build stadiums at Glenn Hills and Westside.

Once the bids are accepted, groundbreaking will begin at both schools. Glenn Hills' stadium is expected to be completed by the start of the 2003 season; Westside's stadium will not be ready until 2004.

"It's created a whole lot of excitement over here," said Curry, whose team shares Lumpkin Road Stadium with Butler. "It's exciting for the kids to finally have a place to call home."

In Aiken and Columbia counties, each high school has its own stadium. In Richmond County, it's a different story.

Of the eight public high schools in Richmond County, only Cross Creek, Hephzibah and Josey have their own stadiums. Richmond Academy shares ARC Stadium with Laney and Westside.

"They've been talking about stadiums in Richmond County forever," said Gene Sullivan, Richmond County Board of Education deputy superintendent, who oversees construction in the county. "The talks of a stadium for Westside has been going on since the '70s, when they built Westside and at Glenn Hills in the '80s, when they built Glenn Hills."

Money became available to build stadiums in Richmond County when voters passed the renewal of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax in 2001.

"The discussion didn't get real until we decided to let the people decide if they want to help us with that when they renewed the sales tax," Sullivan said.

The sales tax money will pay for three new stadiums and a $3 million renovation at Hephzibah. Sullivan said the plans are to upgrade that stadium with a track, new bleachers and new field house.

Glenn Hills' 6,000-seat stadium will be modeled after the one built at Cross Creek, which opened in August 2000.

"Cross Creek is the template for the other stadiums," Sullivan said. "Generally, they are stadiums that will seat 6,000 people so the teams will be eligible (to hold home games) for the playoffs."

These stadiums - which cost between $3.8 million to $4 million - will have a paved track around the field that can be used for state track meets. Other amenities include concession stands, bathrooms and field houses.

Laney is the third school on the list for a new multi-million dollar stadium. The school has one major problem: no available land.

"There's really no place else for us to go unless they tear some places down around here," Laney coach Eric Parker said. "We're pretty much locked in. I'm sure that's had a lot to do with it."

The board of education is working with the Augusta Neighborhood Improvement Corporation and Augusta Tomorrow to purchase 100 pieces of property around Laney. It's a process that will delay the construction of a stadium for several years.

"If everything goes perfect, it wouldn't be available until the summer of 2005," Sullivan said. "That's the most complicated one, besides Westside, because of the availability of land."

Like Laney, Westside has land issues. With apartments and neighborhoods bordering the school, Westside needs land for the stadium and parking lots.

"We're having to relocate some (athletic) fields and some parking," Sullivan said. "It's a complicated issue. At Glenn Hills, we're buying the land and going to build it right there. At Westside, we have to go move one of the fields where the parking lot is. It's a longer time line for Westside than it is for Glenn Hills."

Once the three new stadiums are built, scheduling problems will be eliminated. That means no more Saturday night football for Laney, Richmond Academy or Westside.

"I'm one who believes that high school football should be played on Friday nights," Parker said. "That's almost like religion."

Glenn Hills has a different kind of scheduling problem this season. Instead of playing five home games, the Spartans have just three. Glenn Hills opened the season on a five-game road trip before its first home contest Oct. 11 - when it played Butler, of course.

Laney has five home games this season, but even with five "home" games at ARC Stadium, Parker used to believe he was playing 10 away games.

"I used to say that, but I guess it's not like playing on the road," Parker said. "But there's nothing like painting a stadium up in your colors, have your logo all over the place and really have the place take on a home atmosphere. That would be nice to have.

"It'd be nice to travel right out your back door to your stadium."

Reach Chris Gay at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 114.