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Board approves Memorial Stadium improvements By Tia Lyons Staff Writer

Posted on August 16, 2018

Caitlan Butler/News-Times

Upgrades: El Dorado's Memorial Stadium could see improvements by fall 2019, including an expanded press box and upgrades to the bleachers to better comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The El Dorado Works Board approved $700,000 for the project and one at South Arkansas Regional Airport at Goodwin Field earlier this week.

The El Dorado Works Board approved $705,000 in funding requests for improvements to Memorial Stadium and South Arkansas Regional Airport at Goodwin Field.

By next fall, the stadium could have a new, expanded press box and upgrades to the bleachers to better comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The proposed work is part of a two-phased plan to improve and modernize the 71-year-old facility, which is owned by the city and is leased for a nominal fee by the El Dorado School District, which operates and maintains the stadium.

Several representatives of the school district, city officials and concerned citizens filled the audience during an EWB meeting Tuesday in support of a three-part funding request that was presented by state Rep. Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, Blake Dunn, of CADM Architecture, Inc., and former EWB treasurer Alan Gober.

The group requested $700,000 from the city’s one-cent, economic development tax to add a two-tier press box at Memorial Stadium and to make the bleachers on the west side of the stadium more easily accessible to disabled visitors.

The stadium was built in honor Union County residents who served in WWII.

Construction was completed in 1947 and a few years later, the stadium served as a venue for a concert featuring Elvis Presley.

Given the period in which the stadium was built, the facility does not contain all of the modernities that can be found at newer stadiums, Shepherd told EWB members.

Shepherd led a similar proposal that was presented to the EWB in 2016.

The initial project package included the press box, a new track and fencing for the stadium.

At the time, some board members expressed concerns about using public dollars to upgrade the press box, and the proposal was subsequently taken off the table.

The school district has since completed the track and fencing projects at a total cost of $300,000.

On Tuesday, Shepherd said the school district has invested more than $2.1 million into the stadium in the form of personnel, supplies, maintenance and improvements.

He said the group was presenting a revised proposal from 2016, and the revisions included work on the press box and ADA accessibility requirements.

Shepherd said ADA concerns have been raised by several members of the public.

“Right now, that access is on the track, which is not an optimal position to view activities on the field,” he said.

Shepherd and Dunn said preliminary plans call for the removal of the first four rows of the north end of the bleachers on the west side of the stadium and space created for wheelchair access.

Dunn said the space could accommodate between nine and 12 wheelchairs.

A ramp would bring visitors with physical disabilities to the main level of the bleachers.

Shepherd read a letter from a “member of the media” who covered the 2017 Murphy USA Classic from the press box.

While the writer was complimentary of the event itself, he described the press box as “horrible” and “inadequate” for an NCAA Division-II football event.

Shepherd said the press box was added to the stadium nearly three decades ago.

“It’s insufficient for high school, let alone the Murphy USA Classic,” he said.

The proposed upgrades would include a new press box with two levels — with stairwells on the north and south ends for egress —, a film deck, areas for media representatives, scouts and an area that could potentially be used for fundraising opportunities for the school district and its athletic programs that use the stadium.

EWB member Greg Downum asked if there are any structural concerns about the stadium being able to support the expanded press box.

“No. The only concern from the structural engineer was the need to provide lateral force,” Dunn said.

He said a reinforced concrete wall would be filled with concrete and steel.

The bracing would be built in the center section of the bleachers.

“We would have to build those … walls as far back as we can. It would basically go into the (existing) concession stand,” Dunn said.

In response to another question by Downum, Dunn later clarified that the concession stand will remain.

Dunn also noted that late architect John Abbott, founder of CADM Architecture, Inc., designed Memorial Stadium, so the original architectural drawings are being used for the structural analysis.

“We’re going to be respectful to the design of the stadium. Once it’s completed, it’s going to be proportional to it and enhance the overall look of the stadium,” Dunn said.

He said the press box would have a synthetic stucco look. Dunn and Shepherd said future plans would potentially include the addition of an elevator for the press box.

EWB member Craig Mobley asked if the $700,000 request included a contingency and Dunn said a 10 percent contingency was built into the amount in the event any unforeseen problems arise during construction.

Downum inquired about a timeline for construction to be completed, and Dunn said the target date — including finishing design plans and the bid process — would be the start of the 2019 football season.

EBW member George Calloway made the motion to approve the request, which will be advanced to the El Dorado City Council for final approval.

Alison Abson, EWB treasurer, said the funds would come from the Community Development category of the El Dorado Works tax plan.

Fifteen percent of funds are dedicated to Community Development, which includes 6 percent parks and playgrounds (sports, recreational and outdoor venues).

Gober said the money for the stadium improvements could be drawn from the other 9 percent.

Airport sign

The board also approved a $5,000 request from Mayor Frank Hash.

Hash presented the request on behalf of the El Dorado Airport Commission to hire Dunn to design a new sign for the entrance of South Arkansas Regional Airport at Goodwin Field.

The existing sign will have to be moved in preparation for a widening and improvement project for U.S. 82.

TheArkansasDepartment of Transportation is pro posing the work for the area between Airport Drive — the entrance to SARA — and Wrights Lane.

The state will pay the cost of relocating the sign.

Airport commissioners and city officials have cited the need for a new, larg er sign that promotes the airport and helps travel ers on U.S. 82 identify the entrance into the facility.

On Monday, Hash said he envisions a sign sim ilar to the city’s gateway signs. Commissioner Craig Smart, a member of a sub committee that is study ing the matter, asked for $5,000 to seek the profes sional services of Dunn and CADM.

Hash said then that he would take the request to the EWB. The city council also will review the request for final approval.

Tia Lyons may be con tacted at 870-862-6611 or by email at tlyons@eldo .