By Jean Cole
Hoping to improve the look and the safety of Athens High School and stadium, city schools will begin a three-phase landscaping plan this spring.
Athens school board members unanimously agreed to pay low-bidder Grayson Bailey Landscaping Contractors $16,720 to do the planting. Money from ticket sales will be used to pay for this and other phases, Superintendent Orman Bridges Jr. said.
Landscaping a campus has many benefits beyond beauty, including reducing carbon dioxide emissions, creating shade and wind barriers that can lower energy costs, and creating a more soothing atmosphere for students.
Largely influenced by the stunning landscaping done in the past few years by Calhoun Community College, the AHS plan calls for dramatically improving the attractive but meager landscaping currently at the school. The landscaping blueprint calls for more than 390 shrubs, ornamental trees and full-size trees; though the number of plants could change slightly once planting begins.
After the meeting, Principal Chris Bolen said it might be possible for graduates, other citizens or businesses to sponsor various shrubs or trees once they are planted. He said some existing shrubs and trees have already been sponsored.
The bulk of landscaping would be done where the school property fronts U.S. 31, though some planting would be done closer to the school and stadium.
Phase I will include the areas around Golden Eagle Stadium;
Phase II will include the areas around the parking lot between the stadium and school;
Phase III will include the areas around the high school.
In detail, the plan calls for adding:
• 63 oak trees — either willow oak or Overcup oak (a specimen with a crown that resembles an upside down cup);
• 63 “Natchez” crepe myrtles, (which has white flowers and peeling bark);
• 41 dogwood trees;
• 61 “Nellie” or “Stevens” holly shrubs;
• 132 Little Gem magnolia trees;
• 43 red maple trees (the kind that turn a brilliant scarlet in fall.)
Pretty and practical
The first phase will begin this spring, with future phases completed as money is available, Bolen said. The entire project could take five to 10 years, depending on when money is available, the principal said.
Not only would landscaping improve the look of the property — hopefully making it more appealing to prospective students and their parents — it would also improve safety.
For example, some motorists wrongly use a wide walkway in front of the stadium as a driveway, Bolen said. The plan would eliminate that.
City, school and private citizens worked together to devise the plan. Athens Planning Director Mac Martin and Athens Street Department Manager Dolph Bradford, a landscaping expert, donated their time to plan and draw the landscaping blueprint and to recommend the best cultivars for the soil and buildings on the property.
“I was glad to do something,” said Martin, who drew the plan. He said Bradford, who used to own a landscaping business, offered a “great deal of advice.”
Limestone Circuit Judge Jimmy Woodroof Jr. and business owner Doug Gates, both of whom have an interest in beautifying the community through landscaping, assisted with the project.
A committee made up of city leaders, alumni and stakeholders participated in discussions relating to the project, Bolen noted in a February memo to board members.
Noting that “Alabama summers have become unbearable,” board member Chris Paysinger asked Bolen during the meeting if there was a plan to install an irrigation system to ensure the survival of the plants.
Bolen said there is no plan for an irrigation system. He said Gator Bags — a brand of slow-release watering bags — would be placed around plants to keep them hydrated.