A LaFayette Underground article from June detailing the sorry condition of the old LHS football field has generated a significant response from the community that could give that facility a new lease on life. But the field’s second chance may depend on you helping convince the city’s leadership to let it happen.

As noted in our June 24th post, the former LHS football facility – including Patton Stadium, Tucker Field, and the Johnny Cash Band Room – was turned over to LaFayette Recreation shortly after the high school relocated in 1997. In the 13 years since, the city of LaFayette renamed the complex after Ross Abney but did little to keep it maintained, presentable, or safe. The old field presents vast potential for hosting concerts, movies, sporting events, and other community activities, but in its current condition is nothing much beyond an eyesore and waste of space.

Our article received much attention through Facebook recommendations and a cursory link from The Walker County Messenger. Some of the hundreds who read the piece began to discuss ways to remedy the field’s sorry condition, and several began to take action to make those remedies a reality.

Local musician Vic Burgess, Roper engineer Shannon McConnell, and several other interested parties began a campaign to clean up Ross Abney Complex and again make it into a site suitable for local events. They found volunteers willing to do the work and hewed out a plan to host a series of fundraiser concerts at the facility that would help pay for some of the renovations. The first suggested event would have been set for August 13th, the 40th anniversary of the famed Johnny Cash fundraiser concert held on the field.

Their efforts led to a well-written article running on the front page of the Messenger in mid-July, bringing even more attention to the field’s condition. (That piece is highly recommended – be sure to read the insightful comments that follow it at the bottom.)

For the Messenger article, reporter Josh O’Bryant spoke with Burgess and McConnell, but also asked LaFayette City Manager Johnnie Arnold what he thought of the idea. Arnold said the city could only sell the field to an outside group “if enough of the public were to petition the city council” to declare it a surplus property – something he had “not heard any discussions on.

O’Bryant also spoke to LaFayette Mayor-For-Life Neal Florence. Florence said events could be held at the old field if organizers would request permission from the city council, but he closed the door on selling Ross Abney to a third party because the city “would loose control” over the facility they’ve so carefully mismanaged for the last 13 years.

So that forced Burgess and co. to hold their project until the next city council meeting. Unfortunately the next city council meeting wasn’t being held until August, today in fact, at 7:30 PM. Tonight’s meeting agenda calls for Shannon McConnell to speak to the council, mayor, and entourage about a “fall festival” – presumably one to be held on Patton Field.

The Cash concert anniversary will be this Friday, so it’s too late to get the field cleaned up by then (much less schedule and promote a benefit concert), but we can all celebrate the concert’s 40th birthday by helping McConnell convince the city council to pull give The Ross a second chance and redeem themselves (and the entire community) for letting it go into decline. Shannon just got back from military service in Afghanistan so he should be more than capable of handling any crap the council throws his way – but knowing the citizens of LaFayette back him up would go a long way towards convincing the city’s five councilmen to sign off on his proposals.

If you care at all about the future of the original field, or about the future of the city’s culture and recreational facilities, do your part by attending Monday night’s meeting if you can (7:30 at City Hall), and by calling the city before the meeting begins. The mayor and councilmen all have e-mail, but e-mail is all too easily ignored – so call (706) 639 1501 and try to speak with City Manager Johnnie Arnold or leave a message for any (or all) of the councilmen.

Do it for the memory of Johnny Cash’s contribution to the city. Do it for the legacy of Ross Abney, Joe Stock, and other leaders who cared enough to give their time and money to create sports programs for the citizens of LaFayette. And do it for yourself, for your neighbors and your children. LaFayette deserves to have something nice, a place that honors the past while providing the present with cultural events and activities that we can all enjoy.

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15 comments so far

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  1. How bad is the state of this field? I don’t see why a week is not enough time. It seems like if enough people got together, we could have the place ready for a show in one day. Those people on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition build entire houses in 48 hours or something like that; why couldn’t your readers have this field concert-ready in a day? I know I would be there to help, as long as I knew where and when!

    Also, shameless plug: Not too many people in Lafayette get to give away $500 Wal-Mart gift cards on their blogs. I just so happen to be giving away $500 on my site. All you have to do to enter is leave a comment, just like you leave on here. :)

  2. Jebbica:
    It’s in pretty bad shape, there would be several dump-truck loads of debris to haul off and a lot of safety issues to address. The main obstacle might be the lead paint; it’s buried five or six layers down but since it exists the EPA has to get all in everybody’s business. The city sees it as a liability for lawsuits from anyone doing the work and a liability for fines from the EPA or GEPD for not disposing of the material properly. Solid lead paint isn’t dangerous unless somebody licks it, but they still treat it like nuclear waste.

    The city would be rid of all those liabilities, of course, if they would just sign the field over to somebody else but that means “losing control” – something the mayor and council aren’t willing to do. A private party or nonprofit group could clean the field up and quietly dispose of the old paint-covered debris the same way hundreds of people in town do each week, instead of going through government red-tape that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars for no reason as the city would have to do.

    Eventually the city will have to either renovate the field or tear it down – both options would require expensive procedures to protect the environment from the paint. The only way to avoid that liability (and the other liabilities that come with owning a dangerous, collapsing facility) is to give it away to another entity that can take that responsibility for itself. That’s what the people really want to see happen here, and it makes the most sense for the city from a fiscal perspective, too.

    Give up some control Neal. Just let go.

    — The LaFayette Underground

  3. Jess have you seen the field? The field itself isn’t bad but the risers are broken and falling apart, very dangerous. Even after getting the broken peices moved it would not be real safe for sitting, and the metal bleachers on the other side aren’t really big enough in my opinion. Plus 4 days to book performers, buy food and promote the event, it’s a bit much. And most people work all week. The only time would be the evening, and with school starting back next week many families are going to bed a lot earlier than the rest of the summer (I know we are anyways). Plus on Wednesday people have church, so that’s less people to help that night. It’s probably POSSIBLE but it would be a real challenge and even if they were able to pull it off, it probably wouldn’t get the attention it deserved because of how last minute it would be.

  4. after reading L.U’s post, I retract my statement. Not possible. lol


  6. While the whole complex does need a lot of work, most of the problems are in the stadium risers and where the fieldhouse used to be. The field itself is usable for sports or a concert, and with permission to actually use it for such they could start having concerts there in just a few weeks. But without permission to use the funds from those concerts to fix the rest, there may not be a lot of point in moving forward.

    The city’s concerns about lead paint ARE valid, obviously, but don’t let that excuse satisfy you. Those problems are the city’s responsibility and the city’s fault. Neal Florence, Johnnie Arnold, and most of the current council were in their current jobs well before the place got this bad and they’ve had many opportunities over the years to repair it. Remember what we said about SPLOST in the first article – the city specifically promised to use SPLOST funds in 2003 for fixing the field and never did. The most restrictive laws about lead pant weren’t in place until this year, and doing this work a year ago, or two, or five, would have made things a lot easier. Hold their feet to the fire and don’t accept excuses; they need to lay out some kind of a plan for the facility even if that plan is to demolish it.

    I’ve been hearing some bad things about the city phone system and the secretary’s response to calls about this issue. Don’t count on any messages being passed along. You need to do all you can to be at the meeting tonight if you expect your voice to be heard on this issue.

    — The LaFayette Underground

  7. Johnny Cash’s concert was not “infamous”. Why would you choose such a descriptive term? I can hardly believe what the city/county has allowed to happen to the place that is my alma mater and home on friday nights for 4 years. It is an embarrassment to LaFayette and anyone who ever played, marched, or cheered in that stadium.

  8. adorn:
    I debated using the term, I guess we’ll go with “famed” instead since “infamous” tends to be a negative adjective… This is what happens when things are written at 3 AM.

    Thanks for reading.

    — The LaFayette Underground

  9. I’ve been chewing lead paint chips for years!?!?!

  10. So let me get this right,if we all stand together and voice how we feel about the field we could have a chance in getting the place into the hands of someone who cares about the place? Does this mean that the gym could go with it maybe? Since all they use that for from what I hear is a storage unit, and i see the field at least once a week being that I use the track for running, but anyway if the field is as bad as it is pretty sure that the gym is too. I didn’t play football only basketball but it still ticks me off to see this place become we it is today. Esp. when they spend the money to build a new club house that had to be in million range so the powers to be could buy a beer at the coarse. All when the tennis courts, rec department basketball courts look like Hell! Anyway I’m new to the site but truely sick of the bull that hovers over this town. Anything I can do to I will.

  11. Sorry need to proof read! That should read “Anything I can do to help”

  12. The entire complex isn’t in as bad shape as you are making it out to be Gibbs. I refereed soccers games there many times, and played on that field. The home bleachers are chipping off but they but they are far from falling apart.The structure is average at worst. Why don’t we just donate 80 percent of the golf course funds to help the field, i know that would make you happy. Grow a pair and run for city council if you think you can beat one of these “scrubs” you keep bashing.

    You say the coaches want to play at the old stadium, but what about the players. Homecoming is for those seniors who have worked hard 4 years at their high school. I’m sure you never experienced that, but it is a special night and one of your last memories of that school, it shouldn’t be taken away for those students…did that ever cross your mind?

  13. The Varsity wrestling team practices in that gym and have for the past handful of years so it is in good condition. The JV basketball team also practices there on certain weeks.

  14. Tim, I’m sure you are a nice kid, and the part that is coming across is kid. The points you bring up having little to nothing to do with reality. Every adult on the board has discussed the poor condition of the facility, and even the city council said it is not in great shape. However, as a highschool kid, or very close to it, you seem to know better than them all, and also decide that you know who and what the LU is, though you aren’t close. Most of us on the LU, who discuss, contribute, etc. are not retired, and can’t afford a beach vacation :D

  15. If i were a High School Student i’d be typing things like this :D…and I’m not saying I am right about everything, I’m not sure where you read that? Good Luck with your project.