Football season in Bartow County will have a different look and feel this fall, at least at field level, for Adairsville, Cass and Woodland.
The county school system’s board of education approved a proposal at its March 18 meeting to install synthetic turf fields at each of the district’s three high schools and replace the running tracks at Adairsville and Cass.
The project is expected to cost just north of $3.1 million and was unanimously approved by the board, according to the district’s communications director Alisha Evans.
Funds for the project will come from the school system’s allotment of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. In November 2015, county residents voted in favor of a five-year extension of the one-percent sales and use tax.
The “Educational SPLOST” ballot question listed possible uses for the funds, including the ability to spend the money on “adding to, renovating, repairing, improving, and equipping existing school buildings, athletic facilities, and other buildings and facilities.” The previous SPLOST expired in Fiscal Year 2018, meaning the extension started with Fiscal 2019.
In a news release, the district claims the project will save more than $1 million over the expected 10-year duration of the surface, based on a cost-savings analysis. The number doesn’t appear to factor in the projected cost of replacing the turf after its decade of use.
“The school system will see savings in annual maintenance, which will no longer include several lawn care services," the statement read in part. "School administrators also anticipate water savings, less pollution, reduced pesticide use, higher quality practice fields, unlimited practice and play by multiple sports teams and utilization of other revenue-generating activities, and several additional physical education learning activities.”
According to an email from Evans, “District and school leadership teams visited other school systems to view and discuss turf and tracks.” It is unknown which schools were visited, but the local officials would have had plenty of options in the area.
According to Cass head football coach Bobby Hughes, Villa Rica will be the only Region 7-AAAAA school without a turf field after the Colonels and Wildcats receive theirs. As for Region 6-AAA, Adairsville will join Calhoun, North Murray and Ringgold as programs with synthetic fields, per Tigers head coach Eric Bishop.
Bidding for the project was open roughly 30 days, Evans said. Proposals needed to be submitted by 2 p.m. on Feb. 25, and four contractors sent in bids within the given time frame.
Acworth-based Advanced Sports Construction received superintendent Phillip Page’s recommendation, and the board concurred. The winning bid totaled $2,957,159.16 with a breakdown of roughly $1.1 million each for Adairsville and Cass along with a hair over $740,000 for Woodland. The board approved the bid and a five-percent contingency fund of just under $200,000, bringing the grand total to $3,105,019.16.
“Advanced Sports Construction came in with the lowest bid that also met all specifications and requirements,” Evans said.
The project’s approval hasn’t come without some controversy — even more than the typical "sports gets all the money" detractors.
In the aftermath of the board meeting, officials at Adairsville and Cass met with seniors to let them know graduation would be moved from the planned location of their respective football stadiums into their gymnasiums.
While the news seems to have gone over fairly well with the Colonels, the Tigers have pushed back against the decision. A petition on Change.org requests Adairsville’s graduation be “held on the football field or rent a suitable venue to hold our families.”
The petition, which was started by AHS senior Kaylynn Crump and has reached nearly 1,500 signatures, cites the use of an allotted ticket amount for each student as making them “choose between family members and friends they would like to see attend.”
Evans said no other school events will be affected by the projects. The district’s statement responded to the graduation decisions thusly, “Building leadership teams at individual schools determine graduation locations year-to-year based on a number of factors, including, but not limited to facility upgrades and construction projects.”
It should also be noted, all three county schools, as well as Cartersville High, had to hold their graduations indoors last year due to the threat of inclement weather. In 2016, Mother Nature also forced Adairsville and Cass to head inside for the ceremony.
In a break from previous years, the three county schools will all hold commencement on the same day — Friday, May 24. Woodland’s will take place at 3 p.m.; Cass is scheduled for 6; and Adairsville has been penciled in at 8.
The Wildcats are planning to have their graduation in the school’s football stadium, weather permitting of course. With Woodland not needing to replace its running track, the time frame appears to be long enough to complete the project ahead of football season.
The district’s release said turf installation at all three schools will begin “next month.” In a followup email, Evans said the groundbreaking dates will “depend on weather.”
While the release stated, “All projects are expected to be completed by the end of July,” there’s always the worry with projects such as these that a rainy summer, much like the just-completed unseasonably rainy winter, or unforeseen logistical problems could set the timeline back a bit.
The first week of regular-season Bartow County football games is slated to be played on Aug. 23 and scrimmages are set for a week prior.
Adairsville’s first home contest is a scrimmage against Woodland on Aug. 16 and the home opener in the regular season is against Cass two weeks later. Woodland’s first home game is against Southeast Whitfield on Aug. 23, and Cass’ is versus Forsyth Central on Sept. 6.
Soccer teams at the three schools will also be expected to play on the new turf fields beginning next season. The Wildcats and Colonels currently play in their football stadiums, delaying any potential start to their portions of the project.
The Tigers have a separate field they call home, meaning if the Adairsville portion of the project had started sooner, it’s possible the stadium would have been in viable condition to host graduation. Although, the soccer team would likely play any home playoff games in the stadium this season if construction hasn't commenced by that time.
Having been contacted last Thursday, representatives from Adairsville and Cass, as well as county athletics director Mike Nelson, declined to comment on the board’s decision. Each individual had been instructed to direct inquiries to Evans, who released the district's statement Tuesday. She then responded to an emailed list of questions for The Daily Tribune News the following day.
Woodland athletics director John Howard discussed the decision last Tuesday — the day after the board voted to approve the project.
“I think it’s something everyone has been wanting to happen for years,” Howard said. “It was just a matter of timing. … I don’t know how it came about. I just know we’re extremely excited that it was passed last night. Looking forward to a lot less rainouts in the spring and a lot better field conditions for our football players.”
He noted a lot of details were still being worked out and added that the school is going through a rebranding process, including updating its logo, which would affect how soon mockups could be done.
“We haven’t nailed down a for sure time frame yet,” Howard said. “We’ve had a lot of preliminary meetings to discuss different things going into the summer. If we needed to start [construction] early or whatever.
“I think, right now, we’re looking at starting it after graduation, beginning part of the summer. And hope to have it done by the end of the summer, at least by that first home football game.”