Verbena baseball field lights get go ahead from board

Published 1:40 pm Friday, May 10, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Carey Reeder | Managing Editor

For the first time in its 100-year history, Verbena High School will have baseball under the lights in the near future. After funding was granted at the Chilton County Schools April board meeting, the baseball field at VHS will receive steel-frame poles and top-of-the-line flood lights that will have a bigger shine than just illuminating the diamond each spring.

In the spring of 2023, CCS was conducting their annual town hall meetings when the topic of Verbena’s baseball field not having lights was brought up at their meeting. The conversation centered around VHS having the only baseball field in the county without lights, while other facilities have lights and the freedom to play till whenever they please.

“Several of the people approached me and asked ‘What do we have to do to make this happen?’,” Chilton County Schools Superintendent Corey Clements said. “I told them I would be glad to look into it to see what we could do from a (school) system standpoint.”

VHS assistant principal Jacob Garnett recalls when he was a kid playing baseball in high school playing at Verbena when the later games were called in the first or second inning due to losing light and not having lights to turn on. He sees firsthand the difficulties of not having lights on the baseball field causes the team, as well as the parents and fans each baseball season.

“Time constraints are huge having to play single games every day, which is a burden on the parents to have to take off work and pay admission every day,” Garnett said. “A lot of the community members see every other ballpark with lights, and here we were without them. Everybody is super excited to get on pace with everyone else.”

There were past instances where plans for lights at the VHS baseball field were in the works, and they went as far as having Alabama Power donate wooden poles for them and a booster club member agreeing to donate the lights. However, the lights were never picked up, and the poles sat out untouched until new regulations were passed that new lights had to be steel poles as opposed to wooden ones.

A few weeks after the Verbena town hall meeting last spring, the state education budget allocated Alabama Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth $180 million to give grants to each school district in the state. The grants would go towards projects in the school system that they normally would not be able to do on their own. Clements saw this as a great opportunity to get the ball rolling on the Verbena light project. In order to get the grant, letters of support from state representatives and the state senator were needed, along with photos of the proposed project the grant is for. Clements got the letters, photos and wrote the grant for the full amount of $375,000, the estimate of what the light project would cost.

“The timing of it was cool because we had our town hall meetings to start working on our strategic plan, then the budget was passed and that option was out there,” Clements said. “I went through the grant writing process and wrote a grant for $350,000 specifically for that project … We just had to wait, the grant writing process is brutal and time consuming. It was a lot of leg work.”

Clements held tight until the Lt. Governor let CCS know how much, if any, of the grant they would be getting. Then, late last summer, he received a letter that they were awarded a $200,000 grant for the project.

The wait for funding to come in was another long process. After it did, CCS bid the project out and it came back with a $379,000 estimate to complete, almost on the dot of the original estimate before the grant was written.

Meanwhile on the field, the Red Devils doubleheader with Autaugaville High School in March was cut short as game two was called in the first inning. This brought the no lights issue under a microscope again. However, this time, the board had already taken the initial steps to securing the funds to make sure this problem would be solved soon.

CCS was still $179,000 short of the estimate, and Clements asked the school board for the rest out of local funds to get to the final number for the project. The request was passed at the April board meeting, and it is expected that construction at the field will begin over the summer or in the fall.

“It is top of the line stuff, and any time you can see your facilities improve like that (is special),” Garnett said. “For a 1A school, the facilities here you cannot complain a bit. Anytime we can see we are moving forward is a great feeling.”

Clements commended the VHS administration and Principal Tammy Hand for putting a lot into Verbena, and he wants the school system to be able to assist them in any way they can.

“There are a lot of good things happening at Verbena,” Clements said. “It has really changed a lot within the last five to 10 years, but a lot of positive change is going on in the school and community. We are thrilled to be able to do something like this where everybody wins.”

While there is no guarantee with construction projects with numerous outlying factors, the goal is to have the lights up and operating for night games to begin at Verbena starting in the 2025 season.