The first renovations to The Brickyard in some 30 years are on track to be completed in time for Thomson High's home opener on Sept. 23.
"We'll be walking out as the football players are walking in," Kenna Scraggs, the vice president of Perry-based Parrish Construction Group, told the McDuffie County School Board earlier this month. Workers broke ground on the Bulldogs' iconic stadium in June, and project superintendent Mike Maultsby said they've been getting up at 6:30 and working for close to 12 hours on most weekdays and even some Saturdays.
A glimpse in through the gates of the surrounding brick wall shows significant progress has been made, but plenty of new additions still remain.
McDuffie County superintendent Jim LeBrun said many of the improvements were addressing essential needs, such as the relocation of a 10-inch water main from underneath the home bleachers.
LeBrun called it "an accident waiting to happen." The bleachers themselves were getting badly rusted, LeBrun said, especially on the away side where the first improvements are being made.
Scraggs told board members the new steel foundations and the aluminum bleachers should last for a long time to come.
Handicap ramps and handicap accessible seating will finally put the stadium in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In addition, the new 4,500- square-foot concession stand building behind the south endzone will replace what LeBrun said was inadequate bathroom space.
"It's more than just aesthetics," LeBrun said of the improvements. "It had to do with functionality. It has to do with fire code. It has to do with structural code. It has to do with the ADA requirements."
Along with the new bleachers and concession building, visitors to the stadium can already see new 4-foot tall brick columns lining the back of the endzones and the west sideline.
Maultsby said a wrought iron fence would go between the columns, which Scraggs said are about 16 feet apart. The bricks for those columns weren't easy to find, as the architects and construction team wanted to get as close to the old brick of the outside wall as possible. Maultsby said Georgia-based Cherokee Brick helped them finally track down a company in Kansas with bricks that matched almost perfectly.
However, they didn't have the gold-colored bricks that appear in the wall, so Maultsby said they had to stain about 2,000 bricks to make them the right color.
The company only had enough bricks in their yard for the columns, so as of last week they were still waiting for the bricks for the concession building and the wall that will separate home and away fans in the south endzone. That wall will be the same height as the outside wall - seven feet, eight inches - and run in between the new bleachers in the endzone.
The only way fans will be able to get from the home side to the away side, or vice versa, will be to go back out through the ticket gate, Maultsby said.
"That is a safety concern, especially when you're playing urban schools, and you're playing rivalry schools," said LeBrun, who noted it's more of a preventive measures and no incidents have occurred in the past. "The less that you can mix the schools, the better." Perhaps the flashiest part of the new renovations is the new scoreboard, for which Maultsby said the steel foundations came in last week.
The new board will be 32 feet wide with video capabilities, which LeBrun said will probably be used for advertising and highlights from the previous week's games.
He added that the board already has several sponsors that helped defray the cost and is expected to pay for itself over time.
Excluding the scoreboard, this phase of the project cost the district roughly $2 million.
The money came from the $18 million special purpose local option sales tax that was approved by voters before LeBrun took over two years ago.
He said the money was designated to build a new middle school, a new Norris Elementary School, and renovate The Brickyard.
Maultsby said that phase would include the extension of the brick columns along the east sideline, as well as extensive renovations and additions to the home bleachers.
New locker rooms would be put underneath the bleachers at the 50-yardline, which would then have to be raised up and moved back, along with the pressbox and the stadium lights.
Parrish Construction is also responsible for the expansion of the weight room at Thomson High School, which LeBrun said would make it roughly 4,000 square feet, or double its current size.
Scraggs told the board that project is on track to be completed by Sept. 15, with the original weight room still available for use until that time.
If the district is allowed to proceed with phase two, the capacity of The Brickyard would be raised to 6,000, which would allow the school to host future state playoff games.
LeBrun said when he got to Thomson two years ago, he quickly recognized the uniqueness of The Brickyard. At the same time, he realized that the outside wall and several other aspects of the
stadium were significantly deteriorated. "For us to be able to refurbish that for the next generations to come, I'm very proud that we're able to do that," he said.
"This is something that our students and our parents will be able to enjoy and it's for them. It's not for me and it's not for any coach."