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PREP ATHLETICS: Athletic facility upgrades underway and in the works
Athletic facilities
For the last month, Eastside’s football team has practiced on the newly built practice facilities behind the new Eastside High School building. - photo by Phillip B. Hubbard

COVINGTON, Ga. — Possible upgrades to Sharp Stadium was a hot topic a few months back among board of education members, athletic directors and local coaches. But, according to COO Michael Barr, the conversation began when the capital improvement plan, which covers the period from Jan. 1, 2020, through Dec. 31, 2024, was approved by the board of education. 

The top two priorities of the capital improvements plan were the construction of a new Eastside High School and renovations to the former Eastside High School that will house the new Theme School that is currently located at the former Ficquett school facility. 

Now that Eastside’s new building is complete, Barr said that planned projects for the stadium could begin. 

“The board of education has approved the fiscal year 2023 budget, which includes artificial turf for the field, new field lighting and the demolition of the old Sharp school, which will allow for parking lot improvements as soon as of FY 2024,” Barr said. 

Local head football coaches and athletic directors recently stated their support of installing artificial turf to The News in a June 8 article. 

Barr stressed the turf’s importance to the longevity of Sharp Stadium and its field, too — a stadium that has been around since 1956. 

“In the near term, the goal is to ensure Sharp Field is appropriately maintained,” Barr said. “Artificial turf will help ensure the field is always in good condition for the three high schools that frequently utilize the facility.

“The long-term objective is for each high school to have a complete athletic facility; however, that work is not in the current plan.” 

However, Barr did not say what a “complete athletic facility” would include.

For each school to have its own athletic facility, Barr said a proposal would have to wait to be considered for the next capital improvement plan that would begin in January 2025. 

Other athletic facility upgrades are in the works outside of Sharp Stadium for FY 2023: 

- Laser grading the football field at Indian Creek Middle School

- Replacing the track at Alcovy High School

- New wrestling and track equipment

- Replacing the sound system in Newton High School’s gymnasium

- Adding a softball field at Clements Middle School

When Clements Middle School’s new softball field is built, all county middle schools will have their own softball fields. 

This is in addition to upgrades made during the 2021-22 school term which included: 

- Installation of Pixellot cameras at all high schools’ gymnasiums and Sharp Stadium

- New SpeedFlex helmets supplied to all football teams

- Weather detection devices provided to schools

​​- Shot clocks were installed in the high schools’ gymnasiums

- Wrestling mats were purchased for Indian Creek Middle School. 

Barr acknowledged that it was a team effort to accomplish all of this and plan to get more done in the near future. 

“District staff, principals and athletic directors regularly meet to make sure the needs of athletic programs at all middle and high schools are understood,” Barr said. “As a result of these collaborative efforts, we can plan for sustainability and continuous improvement of our athletic program. 

“These purchases directly resulted from feedback from athletic directors and coaches and represented the synergism in our school system.”

Barr credited ESPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax for education) collections for funding such projects and improvements. Without ESPLOST, Barr said no upgrades would be possible. 

“Despite these competing demands, district staff and the Board of Education recognize the importance of our athletic programs and have worked to ensure that improvements to athletic facilities are included in the capital improvement plan,” Barr said. “We are grateful to the community for their support of ESPLOST. These projects and improvements to other facilities would not be possible without the support of Newton County voters.” 

Board of Education Chair Shakila Henderson-Baker echoed Barr’s support of athletic facility upgrades in Newton County, too. 

“If you ever watched our meetings we all support the athletic programs,” Henderson-Baker said. “In fact, I’m a mom of a high school athlete and anyone who knows me personally knows that. Like any programming, you have to have the funds first to be able to do it and we have to be fiscally responsible to the taxpayers, which again was why that project was listed on the ESPLOST.”