Engel Foundation aims for games in historic stadium next year

Engel Foundation aims for games in historic stadium next year

May 30th, 2013 by Lindsay Burkholder in Local Regional News

Aurlio Rendon of Integrated Properties works to rebuild the left field wall at Engel Stadium.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

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By next baseball season, America's pastime once again could draw crowds to the grandstands of Engel Stadium.

Renovations to the 83-year-old stadium are in full swing, and Engel Foundation Chairwoman Janna Jahn hopes the structure's face-lift will be complete in time for next summer.

"We want baseball to be played there next year," she said.

But there's still quite a bit of work to do.

Construction crews are replacing the left-field wall that toppled during fierce storms two years ago.

"The wall is being rebuilt to historic specifications, trying to replace it back to its original stature and design," said Richard Brown, executive vice chancellor of finance at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, which took possession of the stadium in 2011.

Integrated Properties is handling the construction project, which Brown said will cost about $200,000 and will take roughly three months to complete.

Brown and the Engel Foundation had engineers design the structure to prevent similar wind damage in the future, he said.

"It's a very large span of masonry block, so it had to be designed and reinforced so it would not fall again," he said.

Jeff Garner, vice president of Integrated Properties, said he thinks the bottom portion of the wall was built at the same time as the stadium but is unsure when the top part of the wall was built.

"It was very old, [though]. There were true cinder blocks, which they don't even make anymore," he said.

The project is a significant undertaking. Garner and his crew will spend the next few months laying concrete blocks and building 25 buttresses, each standing 22 feet high, to stabilize the wall. But the improvements won't stop there. Once the walls are complete, they'll be covered in 1930s-era advertisements to keep an old-timey atmosphere about the place.

"Part of our intent to historically restore the stadium is to put those wall ads back," Jahn said.

A number of improvements were done in preparation for the filming of the movie "42," including a new infield. But Jahn said the outfield needs to be redone, and the foundation is raising money for the project.

"The field is not playable right now, and we have to get it straightened out before we can have baseball there again," Jahn said.

Restoring the stadium is a labor of love, she said.

"It's kind of a lost piece of Chattanooga history for a lot of people," Jahn said, "and if we don't deliberately and proactively do something to change that, it will be lost."

Contact staff writer Lindsay Burkholder at 423-757-6592 or lburkholder@timesfreepress.com.