With the plunge of a shovel, Southern University officially began construction on its new Jaguar Park facilities Monday morning.
The Southern athletic department, along with the True Blue foundation, held a ground-breaking ceremony for the new facility, which will host a completely renovated football practice field, a new soccer field, and a javelin and discus sector for track and field.
The two-phase project is expected to cost about $500,000, and will be paid for by donations through the True Blue foundation, according to Executive Director Alfred Harrell. Southern collected a little more than $250,000 before the ground breaking.
“We know that we have our challenges here in the state with the funding for higher education, so once we get that funding from the state legislature and our alumni, we’re quite optimistic we’ll be able to do our part here with this particular project,” Harrell said. “We are going to raise about a half million dollars to put this project in play — all private donations from alumni, business partners and strategic donors.”
Phase 1, which is expected to be completed by Aug. 1, includes the resurfacing of the football field, designing a full-length soccer field, and the addition of lights and a surrounding mesh fence.
The second phase will commence after the completion of the football and soccer seasons in January and will mostly involve the building of the physical structures, including a fieldhouse, concession stand and bleachers for the soccer program, and an equipment storage facility and observation tower for football. The expected completion date is sometime next summer.
As of now, soccer will continue to play its games in Ace W. Mumford Stadium until the completion of Phase 2, after which the stadium will be used only for game-day events.
“It’s going to have huge implications on recruiting, on current players, and the excitement on next season and future seasons to come,” Southern soccer coach Courtnie Prather said. “We recognize that when you have a place you can call your own and you can show up and train, and it’s your soccer goals and it’s your lines on the field, you take a little more ownership.”
Renovating the football practice field has been a major issue for the Jaguars during the past few years. Coach Dawson Odums has criticized the current field’s conditions on several occasions after injuries and scheduling issues have plagued the program during his three-season tenure.
Odums previously said at least two players in the past three years have gone down with injury because of conditions on the practice field, while the lack of lights forced multiple players to chose between class and practice. To compensate, the Jaguars have moved practice into either the stadium or the Clifford Seymour Gym several times .
Odums was not present at the ground-breaking ceremony, but the importance of the project was not lost on those outside the football program.
“Though we have been going through some tough times, I think you can still see the work that’s going on,” interim athletic director and Southern basketball coach Roman Banks said. “We’re in a transition phase to where this athletic program can go to another level. This practice field, the track piece that goes with it, and the soccer field, that definitely means we’re going in the right direction.”