Elberta seeks support for new sports fields, school

By Jessica Vaughn / jessica@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 9/13/17

SUMMERDALE - Elberta’s mayor, Jim Hamby, and Elberta’s mayor-pro-tem, Michael Hudson, attended the Summerdale council on August 14 to discuss the possible cooperation between the towns concerning …

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Elberta seeks support for new sports fields, school

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SUMMERDALE - Elberta’s mayor, Jim Hamby, and Elberta’s mayor-pro-tem, Michael Hudson, attended the Summerdale council on August 14 to discuss the possible cooperation between the towns concerning the new Elberta High School sports fields.

Prior to the council, Hamby had already spoken privately with both the school board and Mayor David Wilson of Summerdale regarding the towns’ cooperation, and on the date of the council the mayor felt it was time to bring the matter to the entire Summerdale council for consideration.

“For years, our community and your community really have expected that if there were ever a high school, that it would be in some way Elberta and Summerdale’s high school,” said Hamby. “And in waves, our citizens have pushed for years to try and make it happen.”

Recently, it has been Hudson at the forefront of the movement. Hudson originally approached the school board on his own and began opening the doors of communication on a joint Elberta/Summerdale high school project. Once the doors had opened, Hudson approached Hamby to secure the mayor’s involvement in the project, a project which Hamby was happy to help with.

“We started lobbying this, and got the school board to see the wisdom of building a school in Elberta,” Hamby said.

The school board approached the matter of bringing a school to Elberta in phases. Phase 1 would be to build an addition on to the Elberta Elementary School to make room in the Elberta Middle School so it could be transformed into a high school.

The Elberta Elementary School has already had the additions built on, and a ribbon cutting was held on August 14. There were 17 new rooms added, plus a music room and a media center. Phase 1 was completed in time for the 2017-2018 school year, as the school board had planned.

Following the completion of phase 1, phase 2 consisted of turning the current Elberta Middle School into a high school. The Town of Elberta had other plans.

“I told them for about 18 months that that’s not the way we looked at it,” said Hamby. “The way we looked at it was, phase 1 was to do the elementary school add-ons, phase 2 was to turn our Middle School into a high school temporarily, and phase 3 was to build a standalone high school.”

For years, Bobby Faust of Foley told Elberta that he would donate land to them if the school board would build a school there. Hamby spoke with Faust upon learning that Elberta was going to get the middle school turned into a high school, and asked if he would consider giving them that property for sports facilities to support the new high school.

“I told him that we were getting a high school in a different way than we thought, but it’s only on 15 acres of land,” Hamby said. “There’s no way that could support high school sports.”

Faust donated 38 acres of land to the Town of Elberta, located three miles closer to the Town of Summerdale than the current Elberta Middle School. Elberta hopes of one day putting a standalone high school on the land, and converting their middle school back. With the community growing, they feel that within 10 years there will be a need for all 3 schools in Elberta.

After the Elberta council met with the new Elberta High principal and the high school athletic director, it was agreed that the 2 most needed sports fields are a baseball and a softball field.

Baseball fields and softball fields must meet certain size specifications for high school students to play games, and any field that doesn’t reach those requirements cannot host games or tournaments. Also, there must be equal facilities for girls and boys. As it stands now, the Elberta fields are made for little league, and thus are too small to be utilized by high school teams. Summerdale has the same problem as Elberta, and while their fields are larger, they do not meet the specifications needed for high school students. Both sports facilities are built in a way where no growth is possible. While Lillian does have two fields available, which is where current Elberta High students will be playing, the logistics involved in having to take students that distance isn’t an ideal situation. With the current standings, the high school players will not be afforded the chance to play up from junior varsity, as they won’t have the facilities to do so.

Elberta had plans drawn up to see what all they could do with the donated land, and so far they have sketches for two practice fields to begin with, one for band and one for football, and then the baseball field and softball field. They hope to build a standalone high school on location in the future. Knowing the project would need to be done in phases, Elberta began to think of how they could accomplish making it a reality.

“Once we got to this point our council voted to earmark $100 thousand towards the project,” said Hamby. “$100 thousand from us is huge; for a project like this, it’s nothing. So then we got to thinking about how could we do this, and somewhere in the process we found out that Summerdale was going to be part of the new school.”

Elberta decided the best course of action would be to take it to Summerdale since the 2 towns will both be included in the new school, and explore the idea of Summerdale splitting the phases of the projects with them.

“What we’re thinking is that our town take on one of the practice fields and the softball field, and either with public funds or private donations try to accomplish that,” Hamby said. “What we wanted to ask Summerdale to do, either with public or private funds, is to take on the baseball field and the other practice field.”

If Summerdale agrees to help, then the next stages will be to work out the legal matters involved in the two towns collaborating to build the sports facilities. Also, they would consider grants for sports facilities, which are scarce at the present time. The school board is focused on additional classrooms going into overcrowded Baldwin schools, and thus are looking to the communities to fill the gaps when it comes to the sports facilities.

The cost for this project has not yet been estimated, as Elberta first wanted to get a feel of if Summerdale would be teaming with them for the construction. Many of the details concerning the project have not been worked out until Summerdale either accepts or declines the proposal.

“All this is on the table,” said Hamby. “All this will be negotiated, we just wanted you to know what was going on. Your kids are going to the school too, and really this is the Elberta/Summerdale High School.”

Elberta feels that it is very important for both communities, themselves and Summerdale, to have ownership of the new school and the new fields, as it will be where both communities’ children will be attending. The two towns began brainstorming ways to budget the monies needed to make this project a reality during the August council meeting, and once an agreement has been met, Elberta hopes to begin construction on the new fields.