With a new high school football season just weeks away, several programs in the Chattanooga area are excited to make use of improved facilities and fields this year.
The East Ridge Pioneers are expected to open their new 6,000-square-foot field house next to the home stands at Raymond James Stadium by December.
"In 2001 when I became head coach at East Ridge, I started pushing for a field house simply because of the conditions underneath our stadium. They were not very healthy or clean," said Tim James, who led the Pioneers from 2001 to 2007 and began his second stint in charge at his alma mater in 2016.
"Our weight room was extremely small, too. There has been a need there. The construction of razing the old stadium in 2015 also took away our locker room showers, along with our meeting and storage room. It made it that much more apparent we needed something for our kids."
As other teams look for help updating their surroundings, patience has paid off for the Pioneers, whose stadium has come a long way since being condemned in fall 2015. The program is eager for the grand opening of its new facility, which will include a state-of-the-art weight room, meeting rooms, locker room, equipment room, training room, laundry/utility room, showers, bathrooms and a coaches' office inside the cement block building, which goes up to 9 feet, 4 inches and will have a metal roof.
An East Ridge alumni association helped spearhead the nearly $800,000 project by raising in excess of $100,000, while the rest is being paid for by Hamilton County Schools. Johnny Jones, an East Ridge graduate, also donated $100,000 for the new weight room, which spans nearly 3,000 square feet and will have eight half racks, eight squat stands and synthetic turf down the middle for sprint work.
Tucker McClendon, a member of the Hamilton County school board, also played a pivotal part in getting the field house approved by the county. Wholesale Supply Group donated plumbing, while Chattanooga Electric Supply donated all lighting for the field house. Tricon Inc., a construction company in Cleveland, Tennessee, is the general contractor for the project.
"This is going to be a facility we can be really proud of," James said. "The community has banded together to help provide for our kids. At the end of the day, they are why we are all here. We have a great alumni that wants to give back. We are eternally grateful for everyone who has contributed to this cost."
Other notable developments around the area:
* No longer will Sale Creek have to travel half an hour to downtown Chattanooga to play its home football games at Finley Stadium. On Sept. 3, the Panthers will debut their home stadium against Jackson County. The $2,500,000 football field located next to North Hamilton Elementary School was approved by the Hamilton County school board in September 2019, and the Panthers also have a new $1,716,400 field house that includes home and visiting locker rooms, an equipment room, concession area and restrooms.
* After being in an old, dilapidated field house that smelled of gas fumes from mowers and had no cool air inside during the summer, the Lookout Valley football team is happy for a new beginning. The Yellow Jackets had a grand opening of their 5,300-square-foot field house in May. The weight room has a garage door that can be opened for sunlight and fresh air when the weather permits, and the building also has a locker room, coaches' office, meeting rooms, bathrooms and a washing room.
* Baylor's Red Raiders will play on new turf this season at Heywood Stadium after the private school replaced the original synthetic turf that had been used for more than 10 seasons.
* Chattanooga Christian School has a new custom weight room and speed training facility with 12 half racks and eight squat stands, along with synthetic turf down the middle.
* Red Bank High School paid for a new weight room close to the Lions' football practice field.
* Outside of football, the Hamilton County school board has also approved the costs for building a new softball field at Howard, with construction beginning soon.