E.A. Sports Today

Big plans on tap

Oxford officials moving forward with plans to bring artificial turf, field house to athletic complex

By Al Muskewitz/East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD – Keith Etheredge can see the future and what he sees has him excited.

Major enhancements are in the works for Oxford High School’s athletics facilities – specifically, Etheredge’s football program – that will expand the footprint of the campus and change the skyline in that part of Calhoun County.

Plans call for installing artificial turf to the playing surface at Lamar Field, hopefully in time for the 2021 season, and building a 50-60,000-square foot multi-sport field house with an indoor practice facility, locker rooms and other amenities by 2022. Construction is already underway on a new end zone concession stand and restrooms (with 24 comfort stations) officials hope will be ready in time for this season’s home opener Sept. 4.

“It sounds great,” said Etheredge, whose first season as the Yellow Jackets head coach last year ended with a Class 6A state championship. “Of course, until you start moving dirt and seeing progress you don’t want to jinx anything. It is very exciting. Exciting for our kids, exciting for the community, for the whole athletic program.

“You want to get excited, but you don’t want to get the cart before the horse. You want to let things happen as they happen, but just the conversations and stuff have been awesome. It’s been great they’re talking about it. We’ve needed some upgrades. We compete with the best in the state, you sort of got to be on a level playing field with those guys.

“We’re a little ways away (from the project starting) right now, but I’m excited they’re talking about it. It’s unbelievable we may have an opportunity for this and if it happens, I’m telling you, we’re already one of the premier schools in the state, but it’s going to put us w-a-a-y up there.”

The project, considered the final phase of the high school rebuild program, had been under consideration for quite some time, but just recently gained traction to move forward. Both Etheredge and Oxford athletics director Larry Davidson praised school board, school and city leaders for their vision.

Etheredge, school administrators and school board members recently toured Thompson High School’s facilities in Alabaster for insights and city councilman Mike Henderson posted pictures of those facilities on his re-election Facebook page. 

“I am very excited about the new field house project,” Henderson wrote on his page. “I know it will serve our student athletes well and continue to make Oxford High School one of the top athletic programs in the state.”

Officials are expected to meet with architects for more specific plans within the next two weeks. They probably won’t be breaking ground until early next year.

“It’s definitely a plus when you hear everybody talking about building and talking about good things coming,” Etheredge said. “I wouldn’t say that was something that brought me here, but it’s always great for people to talk about making things better for the kids, making things better for the community and the school. You want to be someplace where the kids are first, where they’re trying to better everything and get to a point we can be the best thing in the state.”

It is still being determined where the field house will be constructed and how much, if any, of the existing Lett Fieldhouse will be incorporated into the design, but the expectation is it will be located on the visitor’s side of Lamar Field and fit into the school’s architectural style. The exact location of the facility will influence when the artificial turf goes down.

School officials told East Alabama Sports Today the project could be done for less than $12-$15 million.

The Yellow Jackets put new sod on the stadium’s playing surface two years ago, but the field still has drainage issues the artificial turf is expected to correct.

“It gives us somewhere to practice all the time,” Etheredge said. “Right now we’re in the gym when it rains. With turf, you can practice out in the rain. It puts you in a situation you can be out there on it. You get out there and practice in the rain now, you’re going to tear your field up. That’s the biggest thing.”

The field house also has yet to be named, but it is expected to reflect on the Yellow Jackets’ rich football history, perhaps a Mount Rushmore of the program.

“We’re excited,” Davidson said. “We know it’s coming and we know it’s coming in the near future, so that’s the biggest thing. We know it’s on the way.

“It’ll look as good as any facility in this state. When you look through there with our school with the big columns as nice as it is and we’ve got the Sports Arena in there beside it. When that comes in there, that’ll just be the icing on the cake. It’ll be something you can drive by the interstate and see Oxford High School and it’ll be something the people of Oxford can be proud of.”

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