Death Valley improvements on track for Lincoln football opener

Published 9:56 am Friday, July 28, 2023

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Contributing Writer

Traffic isn’t usually much of an issue on Education Way this time of year, but the road that rings Lincoln County High School has been busy this summer.

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Folks are turning off U.S. 27 to see what’s going on out back, where the stadium that is home to Lincoln County’s football and track and field teams is in the final stages of a significant overhaul.

Darren Yaden, the school district’s chief operations officer and the man who is overseeing the Death Valley project, said he notices the increased volume as he keeps an eye on the progress.

“I’ve had to be out here a few times on the weekends, and — especially on Sundays — I’ve come out and there’s just people driving by, kind of rubbernecking,” Yaden said. “And if they recognize me, they’ll stop me and ask me how it’s going.”

It’s going smoothly, and the work is expected to be largely completed by Aug. 18, the opening night of football season and barely a year after the Lincoln board of education voted to begin design work on the facility.

The board accepted a bid for the project in February, work began in March and the end is now in sight for a project that will give Death Valley an artificial turf football field, a new track and a number of other improvements.

“Any time you do a big project like this, there’s a lot of contractors that have to coordinate, and they’ve done a pretty good job with that,” Yaden said. “It’s really been rock and roll the last couple weeks, so we all feel a whole lot better now than we did a couple weeks ago.”

Yaden said the project has stayed on schedule, and work has now passed the point from which bad weather should no longer be a serious setback.

“Where we’re at now we’re kind of weatherproof. Weather’s not going to affect a lot of the stuff we have going on now,” he said.

Truckloads of earth that made up the crown of the football field were carted off along with the remains of the former track, and massive rocks — more and bigger than the project’s geotechnical engineer had thought — were removed before the field could be leveled.

The drainage, gravel base and padding that will be underneath the artificial turf field are in place, and the rolls of turf are sitting nearby and should be put down any day.

The new track’s concrete base is in place, an eight-lane track, and the rubberized surface is expected to be laid over it in the next couple of weeks.

The bases are in place for new, state-of-the-art high jump, shot put and discus areas that will be behind the visitors’ grandstand, and the existing long jump and triple jump pits will be refurbished.

The project also includes an expansion of the football fieldhouse, but a new press box that was part of the initial design phase is on hold for now.

Fans who attend the PBK Bank/WPBK-FM Death Valley Bowl on that night will see the Patriots play on a new Bill Ed Leedy Field that will feature the familiar “L” in the center and red end zones and bench areas.

The Sprinturf surface will be the same as the fields installed last year at Pulaski County and Southwestern, and it will include a kid-sized field in the south end zone similar to that introduced in this area at Somerset.

They’ll also see a track that is one lane wider than the old track, giving the school the ability to host regionals and other large meets.

Yaden said Lincoln football coach Josh Jaggers and track and field coach Jose Pope were consulted about what they would like the rebuilt stadium to include, but theirs won’t be the only sports using it.

The field will be striped for soccer — Lincoln’s existing soccer field will continue to be maintained and used as well — the baseball and softball teams may also use it for practice when their fields aren’t playable and the marching band will get more use out of it as well.

Yaden noted that Lincoln high school and middle school football teams played at least 20 games per season on the grass field, and the turf will require much less time and money to maintain.

“We don’t have the maintenance crew (colleges) have,” he said. “It just takes the worry off of that. The kids get a perfect field to play on every time.”

The improvements were made possible by House Bill 678, passed by the General Assembly in 2022, which created a two-year pilot project that made it easier for schools to build extracurricular facilities without using general fund dollars.

The Lincoln board took advantage of the opportunity created by HB 678, approving a bond issue to finance the project.

“We don’t have a huge tax base. I’ve got to give the board all the credit: They jumped on board and were able to make the financing happen. … It was a one-time opportunity for us to be able to finance this project,” Yaden said.

Yaden, a former assistant football coach at Lincoln, said he understands why the work has attracted plenty of attention in the community.

“In a small community, this is our community center,” he said. “I want our whole community to be proud of it. It’s a big deal.”