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Wyoming Tribune-Eagle (Cheyenne)
October 24, 2013 Thursday
LOCAL SPORTS; Main Sports; Pg. 10-24 SPTS archive new Okie Blanchard Stadium
1236 words
The Okie Blanchard Sports Complex is the T-Birds' new nest
Jeremiah Johnke

By Jeremiah Johnke

[email protected]

CHEYENNE - The Capital City is already home to Wyoming's finest high school stadium.

Cheyenne will have Nos. 1A and 1B when Cheyenne East's Okie Blanchard Sports Complex opens next September, Dave Bartlett said.

"When we built (Cheyenne) South High, we set the bar for what we think Laramie County School District 1 facilities should look like," said Bartlett, who is LCSD1's assistant superintendent of support operations. "? We think that South is one of the best facilities in the region, so that's where we started when we were designing this complex.

"We wanted to build what we did at South but within the constraints of the site at East."

The Okie Blanchard Sports Complex is being built just down the hill from Cheyenne East and behind the existing Okie Blanchard Stadium, which opened in 1958.

The new stadium will cost $14 million, with $4 million of that coming from state funds. The district's share of the construction cost includes seating, lighting, synthetic turf, concessions, restrooms, locker rooms and any stormwater drainage issues because the state considers those items enhancements.

The new stadium will feature seating for approximately 4,000 people (about the same as the existing stadium), lights, an all-weather track and an artificial playing surface. The bottom section of the west stands will actually be built into a hill, while the top section and press box will sit atop the hill.

A natural grass field for physical education classes, football and soccer practices, and track's field events is also being installed behind those west stands.

East football coach Chad Goff likes the existing stadium and calls it one of his favorite venues in the state. But he said it's time for a new stadium.

"The field itself doesn't hold up well, and it's a hard field for the district to keep nice," Goff said. "It's just time for a new stadium. It's an outdated facility, and the district has done a good job of upgrading facilities recently."

Chief among those athletics upgrades have been artificial fields installed at Cheyenne Central in 2012 and South this year.

Why now?

The existing Okie Blanchard Stadium needs $1.5 million worth of structural maintenance and facility upgrades.

One of the largest costs would come from the track. Not only does the surface need to be replaced, but there is a great deal of subsurface maintenance necessary to prevent the problems that rendered two lanes of it unusable.

The long-planned relocation of Carey Junior High also factored into the timeline.

That project has bounced up and down the Wyoming School Facilities Commission's priority list since 2001. LCSD1 hopes it has moved up high enough on the list that it will be included in the state's 2015-16 biennium budget that Gov. Matt Mead will sign off on after the 2014 legislative session.

Carey Junior High and Cheyenne East are a little more than a mile apart along Pershing Boulevard. Carey feeds into East, and the schools already share track facilities.

LCSD1 prefers to co-locate its junior and senior high schools. McCormick Junior High is a stone's throw from Central High. Johnson Junior High is just across the street from South.

Whenever it's built, the new Carey Junior High will sit east of the Okie Blanchard Sports Complex. Okie's $14 million price tag included a shared parking lot for it and the junior high school.

Building the new stadium now is LCSD1 and the state's way of being proactive.

"We want that site ready to go if and when Carey is approved," Bartlett said. "We didn't want to spend $1.5 million to fix Okie and then have to turn around and tear it down a few years down the road. We also would have had to find a way to move the stadium while designing Carey.

"That wouldn't have been an effective or efficient use of state and local taxpayer dollars. Now, whenever we get that Carey money, we can act on it immediately and cut the timeline down."

Trouble spots

The stadium's location made it tricky for the engineers designing it.

There's a 50-foot vertical grade difference between the school and the stadium. There's also a great deal of off-site drainage that comes into the area from the city-owned Kingham Prairie View Golf Course.

Because the stadium site is owned by the city of Cheyenne and leased by LCSD1, the groups had to collaborate on solutions.

One of the stadium's original designs called for separate locker rooms, concessions and restroom facilities, but it would have cost LCSD1 at least $1 million to add extra dirt to raise the nearly 30-acre complex.

The final design has the concessions and restrooms stacked atop the locker rooms on the south end of the stadium. There also are two large detention ponds on the far east edge of the complex.

"This ultimately benefits the stadium, the downstream neighborhood and the downstream properties past Ridge Road," said Bruce Perryman, who is vice president and senior principal at AVI Engineering, Planning and Surveying.

AVI is overseeing the stadium construction, while Sampson Construction is handling the actual construction work.

Part of the give-and-take with the city includes paving Cheyenne Street, which runs east from the stadium to Ridge Road. LCSD1 also will construct T-Bird Drive, which will run north into the site from Pershing Boulevard.

The final design of stacked concessions, restrooms and locker rooms isn't just aesthetically pleasing, it's also practical, Brad Emmons said.

"There's also less roof and building space because everything is consolidated," AVI's development coordinator said. "It creates less of an overall footprint."

Improved design

With LCSD1 using South's Bison Stadium as a template, it was only natural that officials would tour that facility to see what has and hasn't worked there. South athletics director Scott Noble was more than happy to help on the Okie project.

"We talked a lot about what we liked and what we disliked," Noble said. "It was mostly functionality issues. But we talked about everything from concessions to power to tickets and the press box."

Noble's tour proved invaluable and helped LCSD1 and its partners tweak their designs. LCSD1 hopes to return to South and fix some of the functionality issues that Noble pointed out, Bartlett said.

One of those issues centered around the location of the ticket booths. The main access point to Bison Stadium is the school's main parking lot east of the stadium. However, that permanent ticket booth is set back, and there's nothing preventing people from accessing the stadium without a ticket.

Another popular access point is the stadium's south end just off of South Cribbon Avenue. A temporary ticket booth has been set up there, but crowd control is an issue when there's a large audience.

"You don't want that access to occur before the fans have bought a ticket," Noble said.

Okie Blanchard Stadium will have ticket booths on both the east and west sides of the stadium. Fans won't be able to enter the stadium without a ticket.

Other improvements that came out of LCSD1's conversations with Noble include meeting space and areas for students to be treated by athletic trainers.

"Because (Noble) had lived South High for a couple of years, he knew the trouble places and was able to help us out with things that never would have occurred to us," Bartlett said. "He had a lot of great input.

"It's small conversations like those that are going to help us make Okie a top-notch stadium."

October 24, 2013

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