By Nathan Prewett, For the Tribune
LEEDS – The history of the stadium at Leeds Middle School and its athletic facilities goes all the way back to 1948, but as with anything else, the time has come to make some changes to accommodate the growth that the school district has seen over the years.
Out with the old, in with the new as they say.
At 75 years old, the stadium has seen several updates in recent times. New turf was added, a press box constructed and a grandstand was installed.
“But what really needs to be done,” said Leeds Superintendent John Moore, “our concession stand is rather old. Our restrooms, some of them date to 1948. Our locker room over at Jerry Oxford Gym is approaching 50 years old.”
Since the facilities’ inception in the 40s, the district has placed three new schools, with a fourth one being renovated. Now, he is seeking to bring these remaining items at the athletic facilities up to speed.
If someone parks in the lot behind the Leeds Board of Education Building on Hurst Avenue and next to the middle school and walks directly to the stadium, they can find the old ticket booth around the corner. The plan, according to Moore, is to demolish the structures ranging from the booth to Parnell Drive.
The old ticket booth stands at the entrance to the stadium.
This includes demolishing the concession stand and the restroom building. Afterwards, the plan is to construct what Moore said would be a new, multipurpose facility that is 6,000 square feet in size. The facility would include locker rooms, coaches’ offices and meeting spaces.
A new concession stand and public restrooms would be part of the project, as well as open spaces for people to gather during game days. Additionally, the plan calls for demolishing the baseball press box and constructing a new one in the back of the facility, as well as a new dugout.
“In the course of the project, we’re also going to correct the drainage problem back there,” Moore said. “We’ve got an open ditch and we’re going to pipe it, landscape it out so that it will carry water to the swale cross. We’re going to have a modern facility to match the improvements we’ve already done.”
They also want to update the Jerry Oxford Gym with a new roof, windows and doors among other updates. Leeds High School football coach Jerry Hood explained that they intend to include a weight room with more than 20 racks and an area for basketball practice.
“The thing about it is the entire city, kids all the way from five years old up, use these facilities for recreation in the city,” he said. “And so this is going to serve us for the next 50 or 75 years in a positive way, but that facility will now become multiuse and create some great areas for our girls programs to have better locker rooms and so forth.”
Hood believes that the upgrade to the gym will save them money as the project is implemented.
“When we walked through and kind of decided what we wanted to do, we’re saving money so we’re being responsible with our money by making the weight room out of an existing place,” he said. “So it’s really cost effective and serves the needs of kids from age five on up through high school.”
The overall cost of the project is an estimated $8 million. Moore approached the Leeds City Council with a request for $2 million to pay for part of the costs but this was turned down during a meeting in September as several members cited either budgetary concerns or were more in favor of other projects such as building a civic center instead.
But Moore said that the Jefferson County Commission would meet to vote on a commitment to partly fund the project contingent on the final vote. He added that a state grant has been written.
“And we are optimistic that, like most school districts in Alabama, we’re going to be granted some funds from the state fund,” he said. “And then from there we’ll go to the bond market and borrow the remainder of what’s needed.”
Once the project takes off, if all goes according to the district’s aims, the plan will be implemented in the first of May next year and will take around 14 to 15 months to complete, according to the architectural firm, Lathan.
“This is a large facility,” Hood said. “And the city is growing and the school system is growing, and so by getting ahead of something like this, 10 years down the road this will not be a need anymore and all the money that’s going to come in from the taxes and all those kind of things could go for more buildings and all those things we’re inevitably going to need just like all communities around Birmingham. Everybody’s just growing.”
Nathan Prewett can be reached at email@example.com.