The Colonial Heights Recreation and Parks Department recently put the finishing touches on the city’s five-year project that served to preserve and enhance Shepherd Stadium.
Built in 1948 and dedicated Shepherd Stadium in 1951, Shepherd Stadium is the host field of American Legion Post 284, the annual Optimist Club Boys’ Invitational Baseball Tournament, the Colonial Heights High School junior varsity and varsity baseball teams’ practices and games and several Rec and Parks’ youth baseball and softball programs.
With only minor upgrades being done to it since it was first built - including the replacement of bleacher seating and an enhancement of the original concession stand - the city began to desire an upgrade to the facility that would incorporate modern enhancements, but still keep the old ballpark atmosphere.
“I think one of our focuses was not only to preserve and enhance this landmark in the city, but to also offer a facility where we could attract larger tournaments and larger events, therefore bringing more people to our city, eating at our restaurants and staying at our hotels,” Colonial Heights Recreation and Parks Director Craig Skalak said. “I don’t know if the numbers have shown that yet, but our use has increased, and now with the new seating, we’re even thinking about non-athletic or non-traditional events... anything from concerts, pro-wrestling...a number of things are popping into our heads that we could use it for out here.”
The revitalization process officially began when the Colonial Heights City Council expressed an interest in a project that would preserve and enhance the stadium at their annual retreat in 2011.
“After council expressed an interest, we formed a committee of current and past Rec and Parks staff,” Skalak said. “From that steering committee, we came up with priorities... what we felt was necessary to preserve and enhance the stadium.”
Skalak notes that after deeming certain projects unfeasible along the way, the committee successfully drew out a plan for the project, coming to an agreement on a five-year, prioritized plan for a budget of approximately $250,000.
In 2012, the City Council decided to move forward on the committee’s proposed plan and agreed to finance it by allocating $50,000 each year over the next five years.
“We then started the project in the 2013 fiscal year, by using our first $50,000 to install a new scoreboard and sound system,” Skalak said.
The following year, the Recreation and Parks team moved onto the next phase of the project, which involved replacing the original 1948 dugouts with larger, still in-ground dugouts. Wanting to keep the dugouts in-ground to maintain the traditional, old ballpark feel, Rec and Parks quickly discovered they would need more funding than what was originally allocated by council.
“When we got into the dugouts, we found that going in-ground was going to cost a lot more money than we had budgeted,” Skalak said. “Council had budgeted $50,000, and when we discovered this, they gave us an extra $20,000.”
In addition to council’s extra funding, the American Legion Post 284 decided to partake in the project by donating $25,000 toward the preservation efforts - $20,000 for the dugout enhancement, and $5,000 for the new seating project.
“The American Legion Post 284 has been playing baseball here since 1960,” Skalak said. “So they decided to donate $25,000 toward the project, which helped us out tremendously.”
Following the dugout renovation, Rec and Parks proposed to the City Council that they do two years of phased funding - which would involve $50,000 from council each year - to upgrade the grandstand area with brick facade, and replace the chain link fencing and gates with ornamental fencing.
“The City Council then rightly suggested and recommended that we take care of that phase of the project in one year instead of two,” Skalak said. “So they gave us $100,000 to complete that project.”
After receiving two years worth of funding, the Rec and Parks team took a year off, and in that time they completed a $35,000 upgrade to the outside of the stadium, which included new door and window coverings, signage above the main entrance of the stadium and an entryway awning, all of which worked together to identify the main entrance of the stadium.
The team also completed enhancements to the stadium’s parking lot.
Following the enhancements to the outside of the stadium, Rec and Parks went on to complete the seating project, which council gave them two years worth of funding for so they could get it done in one year, at about $120,000. Five thousand of the $25,000 donated by the American Legion was also utilized for the seating project.
“The upgrade to the stadium’s seating included replacing our seating with traditional folding style seats like the ones you see at major league stadiums,” Skalak said. “We now have somewhat box seating behind the backstop, and there will be a wheelchair accessible area there as well, which we’ve never had before.”
With the new seating officially installed, the five-year preservation project to Shepherd Stadium was recently completed at a cost that was higher than what was originally budgeted, but within its targeted time frame.
Skalak notes that he and the others who worked closely on the stadium’s preservation are proud of their ability to work on the project in-house instead of going the more expensive route by hiring outside engineers and architects.
“One of the things I’m most proud of is that all of this was accomplished without using architects or engineers. It was a lot of time of Matt [Spruill, the Recreation and Parks Superintendent] and myself looking at old ballpark pictures and trying to get a feel for what we envisioned,” Skalak said. “We saved a lot of money. We were able to get a lot more accomplished, a lot more bang for our buck without having those architectural fees in there.”
“We’ve learned a lot through this process about the unknowns when you get into a construction project. I mean, we’re Rec and Parks guys, we aren’t engineers,” he added. “We did have assistance from other city departments giving us information and recommendations. One group thought we could stay under budget with the dugout project if we stayed above ground, but we didn’t want to do that. It’s always had in-ground dugouts... that’s kind of traditional, old style baseball. Plus the sightlines would have been obstructed for spectators.”
While they did not hire outside architectural or engineering firms, Skalak and his team worked closely with several contractors throughout the project, including Mid Atlantic Sound, All American Scoreboard, Hussey Seating Company, Seegars Fence Company and Danrich Construction, who was responsible for constructing the new dugouts.
“For the dugouts project, we actually won a Virginia Recreation and Parks Society State Award for Best Renovation in 2015,” said Colonial Heights Recreation and Parks Superintendent Matt Spruill. “And we’ll be submitting these other improvements for this year’s award. That’ll be for the grandstand and facade.”
Skalak notes that with what the Rec and Parks Department envisioned at the beginning of the plan, he’s very proud and happy with the final outcome.
“This wouldn’t have been possible without the support of city council, past and current city managers, and of course the American Legion Post 284,” he said.
He believes the newly enhanced stadium will serve as a great asset to the community in various ways, especially to those who utilize it heavily.
“We did research back when we gave this report [to City Council] in 2011, and I believe the stadium was used about 259 days out of the year, which is tremendous,” Skalak said. “Most of that usage is by Colonial Heights High School teams and American Legion, and some of our activities, including youth baseball and softball games.
“The field is also used for the larger tournaments we’ll hold, including the Virginia Independent School State Tournament in May and the BIB Tournament that we hold every year in late July/early August,” he added.
While the Recreation and Parks team is happy with the progress made over the past five years at Shepherd Stadium, they hope to continue enhancement and preservation efforts as they move forward.
“We have some pipe dream items. I’d like to pad the walls, and I’d like to add handrails going up the aisles of the seating and grandstand,” Skalak said. “There’s also some drainage issues we’d like to accomplish. And I guess moving forward, if money wasn’t an issue, we would have an indoor practice facility that would probably also serve as locker rooms for the local high school teams.”
Future goals for the Recreation and Parks Department don’t stop at the enhancement side of things. They also hope to attract more renowned groups and tournaments in the near future, including the well-known collegiate summer league, Coastal Plains League.
“We’ve had some positive conversations over the last couple of years with representatives from the Coastal Plains League,” said Spruill. “We’ve had interest meetings about bringing a Coastal Plains League team franchise to Shepherd Stadium.
“It would require some creative scheduling since American Legion has two teams that play during the summer here, and we don’t want to do anything to upset them, because they’ve been a big part of what we’ve done here.”
The Recreation and Parks Department is hoping to attract regulars as well as newcomers in the crowd at Shepherd Stadium this baseball season.
For a schedule of the games, visit www.colonialheightsva.gov.