Manchester Academy is making some big improvements to their football stadium and other ball fields this week thanks to the support of school patrons and local businesses.
School Board President John Murry Greenlee told the Yazoo Herald that this project will include rehabilitating the existing bleachers on the home side of the football field and erecting new bleachers on the visitors side, as well as adding or improving the bleachers at the baseball, softball and soccer fields at Manchester.
Greenlee said the current bleachers, which were installed in the 1970s, were originally built with wood. Over time the wood has been deteriorating, and they have had to continually replace boards year after year.
"There was a safety factor involved here," said Greenlee. "We had some scares, some close calls with family and friends falling on the bleachers on the home side, and with boards breaking and people almost getting hurt."
Greenlee said replacing the bleachers at the football field has been a frequent issue brought up again and again at board meetings, and patrons had even expressed concerns about the safety of the wooden structure.
"I decided that maybe a good outgoing project of mine, as outgoing president, would be just simply seeing that this bleacher stadium project took place, so we started looking at solutions," Greenlee added.
Greenlee had seen bleachers at a football stadium at another private school and quickly sought out their advice on how to bring those features to Manchester Academy.
Soon, Greenlee and other board members were working out a contract with Stadium Pros, a company out of Alabama that specializes in the construction and rehabilitation of stadiums and bleachers.
With a projected budget of nearly $200,000, the Board of Directors at Manchester set out to get this project started with the help of key patrons and local businesses.
First, in order to keep costs down, Manchester used volunteer labor, borrowed equipment and skilled workers to deconstruct the wood and excess steel from the existing bleachers as well as tearing down the bleachers on the visiting side.
"John and Ben Fouche' were big volunteers for us,” Greenlee said, “They brought in their trac-hoe, tractors, and farm guys that are employed by them, and they did a lot of the handy work themselves. We hired George Jennings of Jennings Welding and Construction and Smith Woods, who is a local welder. Both of them are also patrons of the school and also have kids or step-kids there. They ran the cutting torches for basically a week straight to get the bleachers ready for construction."
The home side of the existing bleachers on the football field have been cut down to 120 feet in length. Once the old wood was removed, all that was left to be seen was a skeleton of steel. Stadium Pros was on the scene on Tuesday, June 13th to begin construction on the new aluminum bleachers.
Greenlee says that the new bleachers will be a "complete enclosed system," where the aluminum will be set in an interlocking stair-step pattern so that the ground cannot be seen from above, as well as a fence running all the way around the sides of the bleachers, across the back, and along the front. The new bleachers will be up to code under international guidelines that are closely followed by Stadium Pros, and they will also feature handicap accessible seating for wheelchairs and power chairs, something that was not available with the wooden bleachers.
The home side bleachers are expected to seat 800 people. The visitors side will seat 200 people and will also feature a film deck at the top for use by visiting teams coaching staff and crew.
Other athletic grounds at Manchester are getting equal attention through this project.
The baseball fields will receive two new sets of aluminum home and visitor side bleachers, as well as renovations on the bleachers behind home plate which will be covered in aluminum like the football bleachers.
The soccer field will also get the necessary addition of a 15-foot five-row aluminum bleacher for both the home team and visitors to use.
The softball field will also receive new aluminum bleachers on the home and visitors sides as well as a number of other upgrades.
Construction on the school grounds is expected to last two to three weeks, weather permitting.
"This is obviously an expensive project," stated Greenlee. "The benefit to the school is the lifespan of these materials we're using. It should be something that will be there for a long time."
Funding for this project came partly from donations and contributions of key patrons of Manchester Academy and from their recent fundraiser, The Green and Gold Affair, which features a weekend of events such as an agriculture auction, a benefit gala, and golf and tennis tournaments.
In recent years The Green and Gold Affair has made necessary improvements to the school in a number of ways. Students and teachers in grades 7th - 12th have been outfitted with iPads, iMacs, and other devices to enhance their learning experience through a partnership with Apple to lease these products. The school has also recently set up WiFi, or wireless internet, to allow their students to use these devices effectively all over the school. Manchester has also been able to enhance their security system by adding cameras and automated doors to keep the students and faculty safe.
Donations to the school are tax deductible as it is a 501c3 organization.
Scooter Griffin, another member of the Board of Directors, has also been overseeing improvements made to the football and softball fields.
Other improvements to the football field include the pouring of concrete slabs on either side of the home bleachers and on the visitors side, a contribution made by Britton Spencer and B.W. Beckwith, of Spencer Ready-Mix, both of whom are dedicated patrons of Manchester Academy.
The softball field is currently under construction with the addition of a new backstop behind home plate and a re-working of the field itself. Griffin credits Manchester patrons for these necessary improvements, including Chris Nichols, Jerry Sowell, Keith Martin, Jeffrey Carpenter, Robert Black, and John Fouche'.
"A lot of hard work and effort has been put into this project,” said MA Headmaster Bryan Dendy. “Everyone that has contributed is greatly appreciated."
Greenlee said that these improvements would not have been possible without the people who volunteered their time, equipment, and employees, and also gave special thanks to the individuals who pledged all the funds that have been raised up to this point.
"It's a mindset,” Greenlee said. “It's not what can a school do for me, it's what can I do for the school, and that's what it takes to make it a successful place."
Past patrons, parents, grandparents, and local businesses who are interested in supporting this and future projects at Manchester Academy should call the school or speak with school board members or administrators about how they can help.
Manchester's summer office hours are Tuesday and Wednesday from 9 a.m. until 12 p.m. The office may be reached by calling 746-5913.