RINGGOLD, Ga. -- Though the upgrade didn't come as anyone would have wanted, Ringgold High School will be the latest northwestern Georgia school to install an artificial turf football field.
The Catoosa County school board unanimously approved this week a $250,000 loan to replace the tornado-destroyed field at Don Patterson Stadium. Ringgold athletic director Robert Akins is about to decide -- maybe as soon as today -- which of the five companies that have placed bids will get the job. All have been generous with their offers, he said.
"All the companies made some tremendous sacrifices to accommodate us," said Akins, who said the final cost will be in the $450,000 range instead of the $540,000 amount that was first quoted. "We're excited. We've met several times with the companies to talk specifics, and we had the opportunity to walk on every field they've done to get an idea."
Work on the field will begin as soon as next week, with a projected completion sometime this winter. The school's soccer teams will be the first to compete on the field in March, Akins said. Like the area schools that already have installed artificial surfaces -- Calhoun, Ridgeland and Gordon Lee -- having a nearly maintenance-free field ready for use by soccer teams, recreational programs and other community gatherings was a big reason Ringgold elected to install the artificial field.
"The main thing with me is that we want people to play on it," Akins said. "We don't want our field to be a restricted field just for football, soccer and band. We want the community to use it because the community has supported us so greatly in this."
School board officials said the money loaned to the school is from a special fund that came from the sale of property that had been donated to the school system several years ago. The money from the sale of the property was placed in a fund designated for special purposes and emergencies.
In other words, county taxpayers are not footing the bill for the new field. The rest of the funds used to pay for the field will come from donations given for general athletic relief.
"We'll pay back the loan on a 10-year schedule, and we may even be able to pay the loan down early with yearly donations," said Akins. "My biggest concern was the impact purchasing it would have on the other sports. If we pay it off sooner, it will allow us to get back to business with all the other sports.
"The other great impact it will have, and I've talked to [Calhoun coach] Hal Lamb about this, is that not having to constantly work on the field will allow us to better coach the kids and prepare them. It will save us money, give the community something it can utilize and save us a lot of time. It's a great decision."
Ridgeland a Finalist
The Synthetic Turf Council has named Ridgeland's field a national finalist in its "athletic fields" category of the 2011 Real Field of Dreams Contest.
"Our contest recognizes synthetic turf athletic fields, parks and playgrounds in the U.S. and Canada that have made an exceptional impact on their local communities," said Rick Doyle, president of the council. "Overcoming numerous obstacles, Ridgeland High School won another region championship and allowed more players to receive college scholarships following the installation of their synthetic turf field."
Doyle also pointed out that Ridgeland went from having to switch its football playoff game in 2009 to UTC's Finley Stadium because of constant drainage problems to having a field that now serves the entire community.