Supervisors OK more than $2.1 million for Chester Willis Field renovation

Published 3:28 pm Monday, March 6, 2023

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NATCHEZ — The Adams County Board of Supervisors Monday morning unanimously approved moving forward with a multi-million dollar renovation to Liberty Park’s Chester Willis Field.

Cost of the renovation is estimated between $2.1 and $2.5 million.

Joseph Furr, a landscape architect with Joseph Furr Design Studio of Baton Rouge, walked supervisors through the detailed renovation plans this morning.

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“At the beginning of this project, we were asked to renovate the field and put in new lights but also to make this a venue one where it would be a good place for the high school to play, a good place for traveling showcase tournaments to play, potentially some of the junior college or semi-pro leagues to come here and play, and we have done that,” Furr said. “It’s kind of an old jewel that needs to be polished.”

Furr’s plans call for reconfiguring the field in order to make it fit within the parameters of Division 1 college regulations.

The infield portion of the field will have artificial turf and the outfield area will be natural turf. All surfaces will include subsurface drainage.

Infield foul lines will be 325 feet and the line to centerfield will be 400 feet, he said.

“We want to bid this part of the project first so we can get the grass grown in before next season. We want to go ahead and get the specialty contractors and the field builders in here to do their work,” Furr said.

The project will also include a new six-pole system of LED lighting.

The existing dugouts, which encroach upon the playing field, will be demolished. New dugouts will be pulled off the field by the reconfiguration.

“The playing surface, the geometry is better, safer, waterproof and it just really upgrades inside the fences,” Furr said.

That first phase of the construction is estimated at $1.25 million. Furr said he hopes that phase of the project can start sometime in May.

Next will come the renovations to the grand stands and restrooms.

“You’ve got a really nice covered pavilion. We had our structural engineers come and assess it. Their idea was that tearing it down and building something similar would cost two to three times what it would cost to renovate it,” Furr said. “Initially they were a little skeptical because it is so old, but they think with just a few improvements to the structure, it could withstand new code as far as the loading on the canopy.”

Restrooms are the existing stadium are woefully inadequate, he said.

“Your current facility does not have adequate Americans with Disability Act restrooms or the adequate number of restrooms,” Furr said. “For an 800 seat facility, you should have 25 toilets.”

The design plans call for adding pre-fabricated shipping containers, which include toilets that will be brought here and hooked up to water and sewer.

“We are trying to make this as cost-effective as possible. Every room will have a door and one toilet and there will be a common area where you would wash your hands and so forth,” he said. “This is something that we are moving to in most of our parks and venues because it’s more cost effective. It actually works better for large crowds because you don’t have ladies standing in a line waiting because you don’t have enough toilets in the ladies restroom. Here, you have individual gender-neutral toilet rooms.

The project will also include additional parking, paved parking with ADA access into the stadium with flush level entrances and ramps that are up to code, as well as a crosswalk over to the school’s parking lot for overflow parking.

“Your stadium has some nice bones. We need to clean it up a little big and put some lipstick on it and it will be a beautiful venue,” Furr said.

Supervisor Wes Middleton made the motion to approve the plans and use up to $400,000 of the county’s American Rescue Plan Act funds to do so, if necessary.

“No matter where you travel throughout the state, people in their 50s and 60s and beyond remember playing ball at Chester Willis Field and they talk about its character and the history of the field. And they also talk about the shape it’s in right now,” Middleton said. “It was just two years ago that it was all over social media when some of the schools from out of town were blasting the facility when they were here playing a tournament. It was pretty embarrassing to be quite honest.

“We’ve talked for years and years about doing things for our kids and this is a step in the right direction. This is a cost that everybody in this community can appreciate. This is something that every time you pass through the heart of Natchez, you look over there and see this field. Yes, we’re short (of money for the project in the county’s recreation bond funds), but we’ve been short on everything — Morgantown Road, the striping project. I think we can cut some out of the parking lot and maybe save $100,000 to $150,000,” Middleton said.

Supervisor Angela Hutchins seconded Middleton’s motion.

“This field is in dire need. This is an asset to Adams County. This is a state of the art field I’m looking at here,” she said, referring to Furr’s plans. “I travel and I see the other parks that are up to date. We need to be there … As Supervisor Middleton says, you build it and they will come,” Hutchins said.

Supervisor Kevin Wilson agreed.

“If we are going to do it, we need to do it right. The field is unsafe as it is. It is an embarrassment to see,” Wilson said.

Supervisor Ricky Gray said he wants to make Chester Willis Stadium “one of the best in the state of Mississippi, but in the process, there’s going to have to be some game changing and rule changes. If the county is going to foot the bill on this, when the times comes for all these people to come to our community to play in this facility, the revenues that come into this facility need to come back to the county.

“If we put something like this in place, because the people are going to come, we have to have something in place where some of the revenue comes back to the county,” Gray said.

Wilson piggybacked on Gray’s comments, saying the county will have increased costs in maintaining the new stadium and area and needs a plan to capture a portion of the revenue of those who come to Natchez because of it.

“I’m still unclear why the county doesn’t have a tax to get some the taxes all of the people pay for food and heads in beds,” he said.