Building Ballfields From Blight

Thu May 12, 2005 - Southeast Edition
Maybelle G. Cagle

Heavy equipment and professional expertise are helping the Atlanta Braves Baseball Academy for inner-city youth become a reality.

The 8-acre sports complex will be at the center of the redeveloped Villages at Carver community near the Braves’ home, Turner Field. It includes four fields, two pavilions, batting cages and a playground. Completion is expected in April 2006.

It will cost $2.5 million and is part of a $13.5-million project to construct a full-facility family YMCA in the community off Pryor Road.

C. M. Associates, of Atlanta, is coordinating all aspects of design and construction of the facility.

“We establish and monitor the budget and schedule and serve as representative of the YMCA for development of the project,” said Hugh Landrum, project manager of C. M. Associates.

Landrum said the project is unusual since it is the first baseball facility the YMCA of Metropolitan Atlanta has built.

“We are normally involved in planning and designing buildings so this is a different challenge in that we are doing many things for the first time,” he added.

With the additional project comes more work.

“There are many more people than we normally have involved in all phases of the project — fundraising, design and construction. Consequently, the coordination and decision-making challenges are multiplied,” Landrum said.

Although the ceremonial groundbreaking for the project was April 12, site development work started in December 2004.

“Grading and utility work is approximately 60 percent complete,” said Landrum.

“The biggest challenge we’ve had to date has been fighting the inclement weather [rain]. Since the beginning of March, we have received 10.46 in. of rain, which has impacted the construction schedule tremendously,” said Jason Pike, project manager of Blount Construction of Atlanta, subcontractor for the dirt work.

He added, “We worked with Hardin Construction Co. LLC [the general contractor] and the design team to value engineer the project so it would be a balanced job site, which means that there would not be a need to haul off excess dirt or haul in borrow material. This was a tremendous savings for the project in both time and money.”

Most of the utilities that served on old housing project were removed or abandoned on the site.

“We’ve run into instances where there were buried manhole structures that did not show up on the construction documents that we’ve had to modify,” Pike said.

Blount crews are charged with installing storm sewers, sanitary sewers, domestic and fire protection service. Utility work is 35 to 40 percent complete.

The existing storm sewer consists of two major lines: 72 in. diameter and 54 in. diameter reinforced concrete pipe.

Blount has subcontracted the sanitary sewer and water system work to Cherokee Grading and Utility Contractors Inc.

Equipment currently on site includes: a Komatsu PC 300 excavator, a Komatsu PC 270 excavator, John Deere 650 bulldozer, Caterpillar D6 bulldozer, two sheepsfoot rollers and four tandem dump trucks.

Atlanta Braves players Mike Hampton, Chipper Jones, Brian Jordan and John Smoltz are each sponsoring a baseball field at the academy.

“Working with youth baseball programs like this one gives me the opportunity to give kids the same chance I had to grow up with this great game,” said Jones. “I have been fortunate enough to be where I am today, because of special people who have touched my life. This gives me one opportunity to say thank you.”

The ballfields are just one in a long line of YMCA projects aimed at reaching out to kids in need.

“We provide terrific programs to keep them off the streets or from being home alone. We enrich their lives like no other provider can through education, athletics and building values,” said Robyn C. Furness, the YMCA’s vice president for capital development and special projects.

Furness said the idea for the project dates back to 1999.

“Guy Millner, a member of our honorary board of directors, said to Fred Bradley, president and CEO of the YMCA of Metropolitan Atlanta Inc., that he saw lots of youth baseball and softball programs in the counties around the city of Atlanta, but asked if he could tell him where such programs existed in the city,” she added.

According to Furness, Bradley and his staff studied the problem and reported back to Millner there were very few places to play organized baseball or softball available to the city’s residents.

“Guy then brought together representatives from the Y and the Braves and asked them what could be done to change that situation,” Furness said.

She added, “Buoyed by the opportunity to receive partial funding for this local project as the result of the All-Star Game hosted by Atlanta in 2000, the two organizations went to work. By 2002, all eyes pointed to the site at the Villages at Carver. With its proximity to Turner Field and the existing plans to build a YMCA building on the site it seemed to be a natural choice.”

The project soon became a community-wide effort.

“With the support of the Atlanta Housing Authority, Carver Redevelopment LLC, and the Atlanta Braves, the Metro Atlanta YMCA put together plans and began raising the funds needed to build a premier sports venue for the children of the Villages at Carver and surrounding communities,” said Furness.

The Atlanta neighborhood in which Villages at Carver now stands has quite a history.

The original neighborhood, constructed in 1953, was at one time the largest public housing community in the city. But over time, the development fell into disrepair and people began moving out. In the late 1990s, 990 housing units were demolished with a $9.7-million federal grant.

But now, the Villages at Carver has become a success story. President Bush visited the neighborhood in 2002, calling it a national model for neighborhood transformation.

The construction crews are proud to be a part of the project.

“It is very rewarding to be working on a project of this scope that will have such a positive impact on future generations,” said Chris Webb, Hardin’s senior project manager. “These baseball fields will provide children in the surrounding neighborhoods with an opportunity to participate in organized team sports and other recreation activities. Something so basic to growing up, yet they don’t currently have the facilities in this area.” CEG