Savannah’s new Memorial Stadium football field and surrounding facilities were unveiled to the public Thursday as Chatham County officials proudly held a ribbon-cutting.
The state-of-the art project was funded with SPLOST funds and cost $12.75 million. The lighted stadium will hold 5,000 spectators seated in metal bleachers.
A synthetic turf field, with its heat-reducing infill, will lower temperatures on the field by up to 25 degrees, officials said. Lavendar and Associates, a construction company based in Statesboro, handled the project.
The project included home and visitors locker rooms, a room for officials and a press box, along with a digital scoreboard featuring high-definition video capability. There are two sets of restrooms and two concession stands.
Steve Proper, the director of parks and recreation for Chatham County, remembers playing at Memorial Stadium during his days on the Windsor Forest football team in the early 1980s. He said he was in awe of the setting when he was in high school, and his reaction on seeing the new stadium was “wow.”
Proper spoke to the gathering of about 200 people about the history of Memorial Stadium, which was built in 1957.
“When we started rebuilding, it had seen better days,” Proper said. “But there were so many great memories. It was an important place in Savannah’s athletic history. All the high schools have played here, and in 1984 Georgia Southern beat Florida A&M in a game held here.
“Memorial hosted the first integrated football game in Savannah in 1968, when Jenkins played Tompkins. There was even a concert by (the rock group) Steppenwolf here in the 1970s. Now the tradition will continue at a great new facility.”
Proper said the field will also host high school soccer and lacrosse games, as well as youth football games and concerts. He said there has already been a bid made for Memorial to host the 2020 and 2021 NAIA lacrosse tournaments.
“We never want to see the stadium empty on a weekend, that’s the goal,” Proper said. “The old stadium served our community for 60 years, and if this one can do that, it will last until 2078. Not many of us will be around then, but our children and grandchildren will still be enjoying it.”
There is still work to be done with paving one parking lot and completing a community center and Memorial Plaza, where a plaque will remember Savannah veterans who died while serving the country.
The first football game was set for Friday night with Savannah High hosting Southeast Bulloch, but it was postponed because of Hurricane Florence.
Jenkins is set to host Windsor Forest on Sept. 21, but a possible makeup game could be played at Memorial before that date, Savannah-Chatham County Public School System athletic director Ken Traylor said.
“I’m so glad it’s finished. It’s so awesome and it’s far beyond anything I expected,” Traylor said. “I’m a Georgia Southern alumnus, and I compare it to a miniature version of (Paulson Stadium). It’s all about what’s best for our players, and they’re going to love playing here.”