Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

October 9, 2012

Restoration of Putnam Stadium

Ashland school board approves $1.5M in work; walls coming down after season

Mark Maynard
The Independent

ASHLAND — The walls are coming down at Putnam Stadium.

The Ashland Board of Education gave unanimous approval in a special meeting last week to spend $1.5 million on Phase I of a restoration project of the 75-year-old stadium after the Ashland Tomcats have played their last home game of the 2012 season.

The crumbling concrete underbelly of the historic stadium has been a safety concern for several years, even decades, said Superintendent Steve Gilmore. There was no way to put a timetable on how long it would be until the stadium would be deemed unsafe to use, he said.

“From day one the safety and welfare of the students, staff and spectators has been my No. 1 obligation,” Gilmore said. “It’s going to be neat, streamlined and safe. People are going to love it when it’s completed.”

The 11-member Putnam Stadium Restoration Committee, chaired by Greg Jackson, has been working for the past five years and has plans in place to make the new Putnam Stadium a showplace with a $5.4 million project. Replacing the bleachers is the first phase of the committee’s plans. They have been fundraising and telling anybody who will listen that it’s time to renovate the stadium that opened in 1937.

“Definitely happy days,” Jackson said. “It’s been five years in the waiting. We’ve been talking about it for awhile now. Something needed to happen to assure the people who are donating.

The stadium’s initial cost was only $6,500 and put together through WPA funds. It was part of a larger building project at Putnam Junior High School. The Tomcats played at Armco Field, where a blast furnace sits today. Ashland’s first game at Tomcat Stadium, as it was called then, was a 20-0 victory over Ceredo Kenova.

Longtime Ashland attorney Bun Wilson, who died earlier this year, was the last member of that 1937 team.

The old concrete structure will be replaced with enclosed aluminum bleachers. Not only are they about three times less expensive than replacing the concrete, but the bleachers will allow for more storage underneath the stadium, Gilmore said.

The proposed new stadium will include a structural steel stadium structure for the new seating. There will be new home and visiting locker rooms as well as smaller locker rooms for Verity Middle School’s seventh- and eighth-grade teams, concession areas and equipment, restrooms and storage areas. Also included in Phase I is the electrical, plumbing, geotechnical investigation and some engineering.

“One of the biggest factors will be drainage,” Gilmore said. “We’ve talked to the city manager (Steve Corbitt) and the city is working closely with us. Drainage could be less of a factor since we’re laying everything new.”

Plans call for the aluminum bleachers to make a horseshoe out of the stadium with the open end zone remaining the same. The first phase also includes a bigger press box and 800 chairback reserved seats, an increase of 116 from the current structure.

The first phase will cost approximately $1.8 million depending on the bids, which could come in higher than estimates. About $300,000 of the money used comes from what has been raised through the restoration committee. The other money comes from Ashland schools, some through the nickel tax which is earmarked for facility improvements only. The State Board of Education in Frankfort gave approval to the facility plan.

Jackson said the stadium will keep its original shape with fans still walking down to their seats from the top. “It will be more of an enclosed stadium than it is now once we get the banked end zone,” he said. “It’s a beautiful setting that will only become that much better.”

The stadium bleachers, on both sides and in the end zone, will be taken down to the ground when the season is over.  The demolition and site preparation itself comes at a cost of approximately $236,000. Work will begin a week after the final home game, Gilmore said. The restoration committee has several fundraising ideas for the debris, including selling sections of bleachers to give fans who want it a piece of the stadium history.

The plan is to have the new bleachers in place well before the start of the 2013 season. It takes about 90 days to put the bleachers in place, Gilmore said.

Engineers have been studying the stadium’s structure for nearly 25 years, Gilmore said. None could give a timetable on how long it would be safe to have spectactors in the facility. When Gilmore first became superintendent in June of 2008, he had engineers look at the stadium. Some work had to be done then to prop up one end.

“Nobody could put a handle on how long it might last,” Gilmore said. “I just wanted it to be safe for our students and our fans. That was my main concern. This Phase I takes care of that. Everything else is frills.”

New stadium lighting, a banked end zone, a donor wall and a turfed field are among the features included in future phases.

Go to putnamstadium.com for a look at what is planned and for ways to contribute to the project.

MARK MAYNARD can be reached at mmaynard@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2648.