For more than a decade, community members have been advocating for a new stadium at The Howard School, and with the support of numerous elected officials, it may finally become reality.
Howard boosters were joined Wednesday at the site of the potential stadium by state lawmakers, Hamilton County commissioners and past and current school board members, while Tennessee American Water worked to remove three fire hydrants from the property.
Howard is historically a predominantly minority school, and a majority of the students attending the school come from low-income families. For decades, Howard students have played on a field that is often flooded with sewage, and Kenneth L. Simpson, who graduated from Howard in 1985 and played football on the field, said the community deserves better.
"The legacy and tradition of Howard can be revived," Simpson said. "The team could no longer play on a wasteland and [have a field] that is on the same level as [those at] other schools."
Standing on the property, which is adjacent to Howard, Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, said Hamilton County Schools is expected to have trees removed from the property in the coming months, and funding will be provided to start construction of the $6 million to $10 million stadium.
But, he said, "these fire hydrants have to go before any work can begin on the field."
Simpson, president of the National Alumni Association of Howard, said the removal of the fire hydrants is just the start of the work that needs to be done.
"And we need to be sure to finish this work," he said.
County Commissioner Greg Beck was also at the property Wednesday, which the Hamilton County Department of Education already owns.
"Funding is always the elephant in the room," Beck said. "But we are certainly closer [to finding the funds] than we were 10 years ago."
Beck, who has been advocating for a new stadium for years, said he hopes the Hamilton County Board of Education will request funding for the stadium from the County Commission. He added that people in the community are also interested in donating to the project, as the plan is to build a stadium that will serve the entire community.
Newly elected school board member Tiffanie Robinson, who represents Howard, said she plans to bring the request for a new stadium before the school board and then hopefully the County Commission in coming months, calling it a top priority.
"I'm really grateful for the leaders that came before me and got us to where we are now," Robinson said, specifically mentioning former school board members George Ricks and Jonathan Welch.
Robinson said she is eager to continue their work, and team up with Gardenhire, Beck and County Commissioner Warren Mackey, who have also been instrumental in working to build the stadium.
Mackey said this problem has gone unaddressed for too long.
"These kids deserve as much as kids at any other school," Mackey said. "And right now they are not getting it."
"How is this fair?" he asked. "We've been waiting for decades."
He said building the new stadium will signal to the community that both the school board and County Commission care about the community.
"It [would] tell these kids they are not overlooked," Mackey said. "It would tell them they, too, are important."
Contact staff writer Kendi A. Rainwater at 423-757-6592 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @kendi_and.
This story was updated Sept. 22 at 9:15 p.m. to clarify that East Ridge High School stadium construction is not complete.