The Bulloch County Board of Education approved an agreement Thursday for a project to make the softball field Statesboro High School uses at Mill Creek Regional Park more comparable to the baseball field the school uses at the same site.
Besides addressing a concern about the equality of facilities for girls’ and boys’ sports, the action commits SHS softball to the county-owned park, operated by the Statesboro-Bulloch County Parks and Recreation Department, for the long term. The agreement with the county includes a 50-year lease.
A memo from Paul Webb, chief operations officer over the school system’s facilities, presented the project as answering a Title IX concern. Title IX is the federal law that requires equal opportunities for male and female students. In sports, the programs aren’t always the same, as with baseball played primarily by boys and softball by girls, but there is an expectation that the accommodations should be reasonably equal.
“It’s just a proactive step to make sure girls and boys are treated equally,” Webb said Friday.
Under the plan he presented, state inmates will do the labor to give the softball field the same kind of dugouts, with storage areas, that the baseball field already has and to install identical net backstops.
No longer temporary
Statesboro High’s teams have used the baseball and softball fields at Mill Creek Regional Park for about 10 years now. Originally, this was to have been a temporary arrangement, as Webb noted in his memo addressed to Superintendent Charles Wilson.
When the old Statesboro High School building was torn down and the school completely rebuilt, the baseball and softball fields were displaced. At first, the idea was that new fields would eventually be created at the high school campus on Lester Road.
But in a joint venture between the Board of Education and the Parks and Recreation Department almost 10 years ago “approximately $1.5 million was spent in cash or in-kind gifts to create an amazing baseball field, but not a penny was spent on the softball field,” Webb wrote in the memo.
The decision to continue using the fields at Mill Creek only became final after a countywide committee looked at the facilities needs of Statesboro High, and all of the other schools, beginning in the fall of 2014, Webb said.
“The administration of the school had to determine, are we going to keep the baseball field a topflight one and keep it at Mill Creek, or are we going to move it to Lester Road and probably reduce the size to fit the land that was there and not have some of the amenities,” he said.
A large part of the cost of the baseball field was that it had to be expanded from a former recreational softball field and the surface built up with about two feet of soil to improve drainage, Webb said Friday.
But the field surfaces are now in great shape, he said, so that will not be an issue in the softball field project. The field will get some temporary fencing that will reduce the outfield to high school softball regulation-size.
With the use of inmate labor, the cost of the project will be 40 to 50 percent less than if the school system contracted a private construction company, Webb said. The county will not be charged for the labor, and he had obtained a $94,000 cost estimate for materials from a Georgia Department of Corrections project manager.
In the agreement, the Board of Education agreed to pay the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners $50,000 within 10 days, plus the remainder of the final actual cost of materials when the project is completed. This serves as the payment on a lease that, unless either party cancels with 90 days’ notice, would renew automatically renew each year until Dec. 31, 2065.
Under the agreement, the recreation department can still use the field too.
Sen. Jack Hill helped get the inmate crew scheduled, and Webb and Wilson said the school system needed approval this week so the project can move forward. Otherwise, the Department of Corrections would move on to its next project and the Bulloch County Schools would have to reapply for the labor next year, the memo suggested.
So Wilson recommended that the board vote on the agreement without it having been presented at a previous meeting for discussion.
The board voted 6-0 to approve it. Members Cheri Wagner and Dr. LeVon Wilson were absent.
Dressing rooms next
The softball field improvements are separate from a proposed building with dressing rooms for Statesboro High’s baseball and softball teams that the facilities committee ranked ninth in its list of projects for all the schools. It will also be built at Mill Creek Regional Park.
Webb said he hopes to have information on that project to present to the board at its next meeting.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.