Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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February 12, 2014

Putnam walls come tumbling down; emotions ‘bittersweet’

ASHLAND — The first blow came at 2:55 p.m. Tuesday and Putnam Stadium began crumbling into history.

An excavator-mounted hammer smashed into the upper corner of the stadium on the home side, sending a puff of dust into the air and chunks of concrete falling to the ground.

“It’s kind of bittersweet. There are a lot of mixed emotions,” said Ashland Superintendent Steve Gilmore, watching from a slope across Elm Street.

“They asked me if I’d want to be in the cab and make the first hit. I said no,” a wistful Gilmore said.

At long last the 76-year-old stadium is coming down to make way for a new structure that will be built and ready to use by the time the 2014 football season begins.

It has been a long road, one that started some seven years ago when school officials and boosters launched serious discussions about replacing Putnam and finding the money to do it.

The road got a little longer earlier this month when red tape from Frankfort forced frustrating delays, and the demolition, which was to have started by late morning, was pushed back several hours because of some last-minute mishaps.

The truck delivering the heavy-duty excavator ran out of gas within sight of its destination and then once workers got the machine offloaded they discovered the pins that attach the hammer hadn’t been delivered with it.

Once the pins, steel cylinders about the diameter of a coffee can and about two feet long, had been delivered and sledgehammered home, the machine trundled to the corner of the stadium and got to work.

The business end of the hammer resembles a chisel, one with a six-inch cutting edge that delivers 10,000 pounds of force with each blow.

How the aging concrete would react was unknown before the work started, said Andy Light of Light’s Enterprises, the company doing the demolition. Some concrete breaks up only with difficulty but that was not the case with the stadium.

Assisted by another excavator, the machine had demolished two sections on the home side within half an hour.

The work drew spectators who watched and photographed the process. “I married into a football family and it’s been a part of their lives,” said Goldie Bentine, who lives within a stone’s throw of the end zone and whose husband Mike graduated from Paul Blazer High in 1984. “It’s going to be missed.”

Leslie McDowell, a 1981 graduate, spent much of the afternoon waiting and watching. “It’s a sad but happy day all at the same time. It’s the Ashland tradition — once a Tomcat, always a Tomcat,” McDowell said.

McDowell’s father, the late Fred Stewart, volunteered for 30 years operating the system Tomcat coaches use to communicate on the field. He was a season ticket holder and McDowell bought his four seats as keepsakes.

Alumni friends from out of town are following the demolition and rebuilding process, she said. She has promised to send a brick to her former classmate Roger Elliott in Petaluma, Ca., and another classmate, Cindee Seagraves, is planning a trip from Tennessee for a look at the stadium.

Light’s Enterprises has a four-week contract to tear the structure down but had already anticipated shaving a week off. The job may go even faster, depending on how well the concrete crumbles, Light said.

Many Ashlanders would have liked to save the stadium, which is a product of the Depression-era Works Progress Administration, but replacing it was the safer and less expensive route, Gilmore said. “I’m elated that the city of Ashland and the residents and the staff and most important, the kids, are going to have an absolutely beautiful stadium,” he said.

Work on the new concrete foundations will begin in early spring. The new stadium, which will cost $1.46 million, will have fold-down VIP chairs, press box, concrete walkways behind the bleachers, fencing, and preliminary plumbing for future restrooms.

The school board intends to look for financing later on for new locker rooms. A private foundation, the Putnam Stadium Renovation Committee, is raising money for the project.

The old stadium had been showing its age, with cracks in the concrete that prompted closure of two sections just before the first home game last August.

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or

(606) 326-2652.

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