Preliminary plans for a new ballfield complex in Southwest Decatur show eight turf fields on stair-stepped levels, city officials said.
At a projected cost of $17 million, the ballfields next to Austin High School are part of the $72 million parks plan unveiled last week. The plan also includes the city spending $55 million on a new recreation center and other improvements at Wilson Morgan Park.
On Monday, the City Council approved a professional services agreement with Framework Architecture to design the buildings on the ballfield complex and a $252,000 contract with Pugh Wright McAnally to design the remainder of the complex.
Parks and Recreation Director Jason Lake said his main goal is to give local youth softball teams a permanent “nice place to play.” The city closed the Aquadome softball fields in 2019.
“From a broad-spectrum outlook, I just want a nice place for our leagues to play because they lost their place to play and they’ve had to wait quite a while,” Lake said.
Councilman Carlton McMasters, who has daughters who play softball, said the youth softball teams have had to shuffle their games between the Austin Middle School and Walter Jackson Elementary fields.
“We would take any open field we could find for practice,” McMasters said.
Councilman Hunter Pepper said he “could not be more excited” about plans for the ballfield complex.
“The complex will be in District 5 right next door to District 4, and it’s going to be a huge benefit to that area,” Pepper said. “There’s so much opportunity for development in that area.”
Councilman Billy Jackson has been vocal in his opposition to the planned sites for the rec center and ballfields. He said the city is moving the recreation center and ballfields away “with no regard to the community that the Aquadome was built to serve."
“The 3M settlement was a bad deal,” Jackson said. “But the whole purpose of the 3M money was to replace the Aquadome, and the Aquadome was put in the middle of a community to serve that community.”
Jackson said there was property off Eighth Street Southwest that’s closer to the Aquadome and could have better served that community’s residents.
“Rather than serve that community’s needs, we’ve gone with this grandiose plan,” Jackson said.
Pepper said he wished Jackson would support the sports complex plans.
“Mr. Jackson doesn’t support growth in part of the city unless it’s in his district,” Pepper said. “Hopefully, Mr. Jackson will grow up one day and understand that the other parts of the city have to grow, too.”
Jackson said, “No comment,” when asked about Pepper’s statement.
Blake McAnally, owner and president of Pugh Wright McAnally, said the 34.2 acres for the ballfields, purchased last year from Neal Holland, is a “very narrow site. There’s not a lot of extra space on which to fit the eight fields and a parking lot for 300 to 350 vehicles.”
Part of the project will be a second parking lot for “several hundred vehicles” that the city will share with the high school.
Lake said the “very early” plan is to put synthetic turf on the eight fields, although the number of fields with synthetic turf could change depending on budget. Each field would have lighting, a fence and dugouts plus a press box with restrooms and a concession stand.
McAnally said the artificial turf field will have an under-drain system beneath it.
“You could be out there and it be pouring rain and the water just disappears under the ground,” McAnally said.
Lake said the turf is almost required now because it cuts down on the number of rainouts, which makes it much easier to hold travel ball tournaments.
“There are probably more places that hold tournaments regularly that have turf than don’t,” Lake said.
McAnally said local residents will be familiar with the turf they plan to add because it’s the same turf that’s at Jack Allen Sports Complex’s championship field and the city’s two high school football stadiums. Decatur High’s new baseball/softball field will have this turf, he said.
“People are finding that the initial cost is more but there’s a lot of savings in not having to mow and take care of the grass,” McAnally said. “After a period of time, they pay for themselves.”
Jackson pointed out Monday that the city dealt with major rock issues when Jack Allen was built in 2006 so he expects the same issues with the new ballfield complex.
McAnally’s firm did the engineering and design at neighboring Austin High, which was built in 2018, and Jack Allen, which opened in 2006, so he knows what they’re facing in site work.
McAnally confirmed rock is an issue just as it was when they built Jack Allen. He said this is why they’ve arranged the fields in the plans so they will be at different elevations.
“From the upper field at the south end as you move to the north, the fields will drop in elevation, sort of stair-stepping and tracking the grade,” McAnally said. “The goal is to stay just above the rock.”
McAnally said they don’t expect to need any mass earthwork or rock moving.
“We will find some rock in the trenches when we’re burying utilities and storm drains,” he said.
Lake said he believes the stair-stepping will make for a dramatic effect similar to that of the Jack Allen complex.
“When you park in the high school parking lot, you will be able to look down on the whole thing and see all of the games going on,” Lake said. “That’s just a wonderful view.”
McAnally said stair-stepping the fields will create a challenge when it comes to dealing with drainage.
“You don’t want water standing anywhere,” McAnally said. “We will have a lot of storm drains and inlets to deal with water flow.”
McAnally said the site work will cost roughly $6 million. He said the remainder of the project will be the ballfields' construction, the drainage, utilities, new buildings, the roads through the complex and the two parking lots.
The city received $42 million to replace the Aquadome Recreation Center and softball fields from a $98.4 million settlement the city reached with 3M Corp. in 2021 over industrial contaminants, including toxins in a closed municipal landfill that lies beneath Aquadome Recreation Center and the former Brookhaven Middle School.
Once the new rec center is built, the city will transfer the 25-acre Aquadome property to 3M, which plans to demolish the recreation center.
Next door, 3M is demolishing the former Brookhaven Middle School, which it owns. The company has said it plans to seek public input on future use of the Brookhaven grounds.
On Monday, the City Council also hired Goodwyn Mills Cawood LLC for architectural services for the new Wilson Morgan recreation center.
Under the contract, Goodwyn Mills will be paid 4.5% of the total cost of the project. The expanded plans for the Wilson Morgan rec center and park grounds have increased the projected cost to $55 million, which would yield a fee of $2,475,000 to Goodwyn Mills for architectural and engineering services.
The expanded rec center's cost is now $20 million above the amount earmarked for the project from the 3M settlement.
Councilman Kyle Pike said he thinks the ballfield complex and recreation center “will be really nice and something we can be proud of in our community. They will look good and be functional, too.”
Pike said he believes the funding won’t be an issue. The council is considering allocating revenues from a 3 percentage-point lodging tax increase they approved in February to help cover the debt service for bonds that will cover the additional cost of the recreation center, Wilson Morgan improvements and the ballfield complex.
“The ballfield complex is in a good area,” Pike said. “We’re also looking at road improvements to help with the growth and the additional traffic.”
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No wonder people are leaving Decatur, for statements like this, “Mr. Jackson doesn’t support growth in part of the city unless it’s in his district,” Pepper said. “Hopefully, Mr. Jackson will grow up one day and understand that the other parts of the city have to grow, too.” Pepper shows his ignorance and uneducated background, he really thinks what they have accomplished and doing has inspired growth, check the numbers Pepper, they do not lie. Got to give Jackson credit for the no comment, that takes a bigger person to be able to do that. Pepper you need to come down to my "hick town" which Decatur has always referred to us as, the one that borders Decatur on the south end, and see how leadership and prosperity really works. If you and the clowns running Decatur, I will not include Jackson in this, think sinking all this money in sports complexes will make Decatur thrive and grow, I guess the 5-10 percent of Decatur students paying out of district fees to come into our school system will not affect Decatur any way.
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