Byrd High School officials and supporters are expected to break ground next week on a $1.5 million project that that will bring some of the school’s athletic facilities into the 21st century.
On tap for Phase I of “Jacket Pride: The Campaign for Byrd Athletics” is a synthetic turf field for use by the football, soccer and lacrosse teams, along with physical education classes. It will also include a synthetic surface track to replace the current asphalt track, along with land acquisition for additional parking.
“I’ve been working on this for 16 years in different forms,” Byrd athletic director and football coach Mike Suggs said. “I’m very excited because this has been a long process. We finally have some momentum.”
The second phase of the privately funded project, which will begin once the initial project is in the books, will include construction of an approximately $2 million field house on the Kings Highway end of the complex. It will house football lockers, along with training, weight and meeting rooms, plus coaches’ offices.
“We have an outstanding group of current and former parents and alumni who are behind this and making it happen,” Byrd principal Jerry Badgley said. “Over the last five years, we’ve had $500,000 pledged for this project and Mike and I really wanted this to happen this year.”
Phase 3 will include construction of a multi-purpose indoor practice facility for P.E. classes and all varsity sports, which will bring the cost of the total project to $5 million.
“That last phase might be a pipe dream, but we’ll see what happens,” Badgley said. “Sometimes when you get things rolling and people see that their donations are being fruitful, you gain even more momentum.”
Plans are to have the first phase completed in time for fall football practices.
Byrd has been hampered by its land-locked status surrounded by Line Avenue, Kings, Creswell and Gladstone. The entire campus sits on 20 acres. Once the project is complete, the school encompass virtually the entire block, less two residences.
“We’ve had nowhere to go,” Suggs said. “And we’ve had to get by with substandard facilities.”
The baseball team has a stadium behind LSUS, which is where the lacrosse team practices. Both the boys and girls soccer teams practice and play games at Lee Hedges Stadium.
“No longer will those teams have to leave campus to practice and I won’t have to worry every day about kids on the road after school,” Badgley said. “That field down there is constantly under use, so having an artificial turf on it will make it so much better for so many groups.”
On Thursday afternoon, football players were sitting almost on top of each other in Byrd’s tiny film room, which sits adjacent to Suggs’ miniscule office. Kids routinely sit on desks or where ever they can to get comfortable.
The entire football practice field and the track will be dug up and the dirt piled on the Creswell side as a possible support base for bleachers. The track was originally cinder before being converted to asphalt about 10 years ago. The synthetic turf will allow track and field athletes to practice on a surface that they usually compete on and it will be easier on their legs. The football team was often at a disadvantage practicing on natural grass when most of the Yellow Jackets’ games are played on an artificial turf field.
“We played on one grass field this past season — at Airline — and we’ll play on one this season — at Haughton,” Suggs said.
Badgley said the track will be re-configured and it will be available only for practice, not meets, since it will not have space for the javelin or discus events. The project has been signed off on by Caddo Parish School District officials, according to Badgley.
“We want to stress that this is privately funded, because it wouldn’t be fair for the school district to do this for one school and not another,” he said. “This is a testament to people who no longer have kids in school here, but who want to have an impact at their school.
“And I believe this will be good, not just for Byrd High School, but for Shreveport and the school district.”
Even though they won’t be around to enjoy the amenities, the 2014 senior class is supportive of the project according to Badgley and Suggs.
“The seniors have donated the money to build a nice archway for the entrance off Gladstone, where we will have some wrought iron fencing to enhance the community where we sit,” Badgley said.