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Board backs Austin plan
Board backs Austin plan: Boosters present proposal for $1 million sports practice facility, 2,500-seat arena

By Bayne Hughes
hughes@decaturdaily.com 340-2432

On Tuesday, the Decatur school board said it will support efforts to build a $1 million multi-purpose athletic practice facility at Austin High School.

A committee of Austin boosters presented the board with a two-phase plan. The multi-purpose facility is phase 1. It would have baseball and softball batting and pitching cages, an open area for indoor football practice, a tennis court, weight room, cheerleader practice room, offices and meeting and film-study rooms.

The boosters would raise $600,000, while the board committed to the remaining $400,000. Superintendent Sam Houston said the school board would provide the matching funds when the group has the money in the bank, not just commitments or pledges to contribute.

This not the first time the school board and boosters have worked together on a facility. Decatur High School recently built a baseball/softball indoor practice facility and a football field house. Austin recently built a softball field and a track.

Phase 2 will be an arena with a capacity of at least 2,500. Boosters did not have a cost estimate or construction timeline for this phase.

Austin athletic booster club President Joel Sandlin, former club President
Keith Skinner, booster club member Redus Tuttle and Principal Don Snow presented the plan to the board.

They said they hope to raise the money through corporate contributions and community fundraisers during 2007 with a goal of building phase 1 in 2008.

Houston formed the committee last summer, and it spent several months evaluating the school's athletic facilities, including surveying coaches.

Skinner noted that the baseball, football and tennis teams play at off-site facilities and that soccer may move to the Jack Allen Recreation Complex.

The gymnasium is too small. Principal Don Snow said all of his 1,500 students don't have a seat at pep rallies. Volleyball is unable to host Class 6A tournaments.

The school also must hold graduation ceremonies at Calhoun Community College.

'Woefully inadequate'

Skinner said the committee also looked at the facilities of competitors like Bob Jones, Huntsville and Cullman high schools and concluded that "Austin's facilities are woefully inadequate."

Houston asked architect Frank Nola of SKT Architects to help the committee. Nola's firm designed Austin's science/social studies building, which currently is under construction.

Nola said the two phases will fit well into the projected plan for the school, which includes eventually replacing the math and English buildings.

Nola presented a site plan placing the 15,000-square-foot multi-purpose center adjacent to Joe Jones Gymnasium in the parking lot along Westmead Street. Phase 2 would fill the remainder of the parking area.

The auxiliary gymnasium would then become a parking lot replacing parking spaces lost to the two new buildings.

Although the auxiliary gymnasium was built in the early 1980s, Nola said, it would cost more to update the building than to demolish it and replace it with the multi-purpose facility.

"The auxiliary gym is very limited in it's functionality, and you would have to bring it up to code if you attached another facility," Nola said.

School board President Dr. Charles Elliott said he thought the project is a good idea.

"We don't want to do this as a quick fix," Elliott said. "I think this is a great proposal."

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