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As a part of the budget discussion for the Pulaski County School Board, one of the responsibilities is to create a list of capital projects for the division to complete as funds become available.


For around 20 years, one item that has been discussed but never officially added to the list has been a major renovation of Kenneth J. Dobson Stadium/Joel Hicks Field. That changed Tuesday as Vice Chair Tim Hurst forwarded the motion that the board work toward finding the funding to turf the field and make other improvements in and around the stadium.


“Our student-athletes are at a competitive disadvantage in several sports,” Mr. Hurst stated. “Looking at our football and soccer schedules from last season, all of those school systems either already have turf fields or have a plan for having them in place in the next year or so. We’ve seen too many examples of games being postponed or having to move them to another field because ours was either too wet or too muddy, creating an unsafe playing surface. I think it’s time to consider ways to bring our stadium, which I think is one of the finest in the state, to the next level.”


Currently, Blacksburg, Christiansburg, Salem, and Patrick Henry have their own turf fields. Bluefield and Graham share Mitchell Stadium in Bluefield, which is turfed. Hidden Valley and Cave Spring share Dwight Bogle Stadium, which is a turf field. Northside High School is in the process of installing a new turf field now. William Byrd, a member of Class 3, Region D, which will be the new landing spot for Pulaski County beginning in the 2023-24 school year, has a turf field. Princeton, WV, becomes the newest team on the schedule in 2023. They have a turf field as well. The only team on the 2023 schedule for the Cougars that does not have a turf field is Lord Botetourt, which uses a Bermuda Grass field playing surface.


Outside of football, the Cougar and Lady Cougar soccer teams also use the playing surface of Joel Hicks Field for competition, but unlike other schools they do not use full regulation field markings due to space limitations. When they travel to other schools, the field they play on is larger and laid out differently than the one they use at home games.


The Golden Cougar Marching Band also uses the stadium for their annual Cougar Band Classic, which in some years has brought over 20 bands to compete. Rec league football games have taken place in the stadium, as well as events such as the annual Powder Puff Football game. At most schools, practices for other sports can also be conducted on the turf fields when not being used by someone else.


All of these practices, events, and matches are subject to postponement or cancellation if the current field is too wet or too muddy. The last time any major work was done in the stadium was when the bleacher expansions were added in the 1980's and when lights and light poles were replaced in the early 2000's.


“Each event that takes place in the stadium draws visitors to Pulaski County and our high school,” Hurst said. “Those visitors spend money in our community. We want those people to come here. We want them to see our best, and to do that we need to make sure we show them our best. We want Kenneth J. Dobson Stadium to be a showplace for our county and our school system. We want to do everything first class.”


The biggest question that will be on the minds of most people is, of course, how to pay for such a project. Fortunately, most large projects throughout the school system have been addressed through federal money obtained during the Covid pandemic. With that, and the fact that PCPS has began receiving money from the County from the cigarette tax and the money that will continue to come in from the retired debt service that goes directly to the capital needs fund for the school system, a path that will allow the project to begin to move forward seems more than workable.


Money in the operations budget is a separate funding source, which cannot be used for capital improvements. Money for that account is used for payroll and other day to day operations of our schools.


Another bonus that could come from making improvements is the opportunity to host other events at the stadium, bringing more revenue to the school and county. One plan includes hosting an annual college football game. Others include hosting soccer and flag football tournaments for large organizations.


One very big event that will likely see a return with a turf field is a true Pulaski County Touchdown Classic. Once the longest running preseason jamboree of its kind in the Commonwealth, the TD Classic featured several teams that each played what amounted to a half of football against two different teams. With some years featuring as many as eight teams or more, the event turned into a full day of quality football competition that brought fans from across the area.


“When they come here, they’ll spend money,” Hurst said. “But even more than that, we want people who come here to leave with a positive impression of Pulaski County. We want it to show that we care about our students and we care about doing things the right way. It’s a win for everybody.”