By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Work on Escambia County High School’s new athletic fieldhouse is nearing its halfway point, and officials expect that ECHS football players will dress out in the new facility prior to their first home game this fall.
“We’re getting close to halfway finished,” Shaun Goolsby, director of operations for the county school system said last week. “We’re on schedule for completion. We’re looking at it being completed before football season gets here. It could speed up, but we’re operating right now inside of that scope of on-schedule.”
The job was initially intended to be a major renovation project, but Goolsby said the condition of the building made it more of a rebuild than a rehab.
“We tore everything down to parts of the existing slab, and some of the existing iron that was left,” Goolsby said. “Everything else will be new; it’ll really be a new building.”
The county school board accepted last July a bid of $2,693,700 from Atmore-based Triptek Construction to give a complete makeover to the venerable building, which has reportedly served as the dressing rooms and weight room for ECHS’s Blue Devils for more than 50 years.
Goolsby said at the outset of the project that everything inside and outside — “the plumbing, drainage, everything” — would be new and would meet provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Original plans called for the facility to have an accompanying covered practice field, but an unstable and steadily rising materials market eliminated the ability to add the shaded preparation area. The amended plans do allow for an addition that will become a new weight room.
Assistant Superintendent of Education George Brown, who regularly worked out at the former facility before the rebuild began, was one of its biggest supporters. Brown told education officials during a recent school board meeting the renovation was long overdue.
“Those kids deserve a lot better than that,” he said of the former fieldhouse. “They are itching for something better, and they deserve it.”
ECHS Athletic Director Vincent Harris, who is also the school’s head football coach, said the new dressing rooms and workout facility will be a key component of his effort to rebuild the once-proud ECHS program.
“It’s awesome, it’s a big deal, it’s a massive improvement,” Harris said. “Our new field house will impact the whole campus, make it similar to a small college. We’ll be able to do top-notch conditioning now, and it could be a game-changer for us, attracting more athletes to stay, letting them know there’s no need to leave home.”
“Oh, yes, the new facility will help turn the school’s football program around,” he said. “It will help change the school culture.”
Harris, who will soon start his third year at the ECHS helm, said he appreciates the backing he and the program have received during that time.
“I’m thankful to the entire community for their support, and I’m thankful to the school board, and especially to Mr. Goolsby,” he said. “I just thank God that all these blessings are coming to us.”