April 11, 2013 10:00:15 AM
Sarah Fowler - email@example.com
The future of the historic Magnolia Bowl remains uncertain but the Columbus Municipal School District is exploring its options.
During Monday night's school board meeting, city engineer Kevin Stafford informed the board of an offer from the Columbus Light and Water Department to remove the concrete bleachers and the wall that surrounds the 80-year-old stadium, which has not been used since 1998 when Columbus High School began playing at its new stadium near the CHS campus.
The idea of removing the concrete, which would leave an exposed hill that was initially built as a landfill of sorts, created concerns that the demolition was proceeding before any real plan for the facility had been devised.
The board tabled the motion until its May meeting.
Recently, the Link'd Young Professionals began talks of turning the retired football stadium into an amphitheater. However, since the property belongs to the school district, any plans would have to be approved and likely funded through the board.
School board member Jason Spears, who recently resigned from Link'd, has long been an advocate for developing the Magnolia Bowl as a means of generating revenue for the district.
"There are many parts of the puzzle that are coming together," Spears said. "The more money that we start generating internally as a school district the less money we have to ask for from the taxpayers," Spears said.
Spears noted that there is no funding in place for any work at the bowl. He said the school board would want input from the community before it began a project of that magnitude.
"It's obviously something that we want to work in partnership with but it's nothing that we have to do immediately," Spears said. "We definitely want to solicit more community input and encourage them to do so as the project goes forward."
In addition to the demolition offer, Stafford also addresed the board on an issue involving the Lee Middle School property and an EPA Brownfields grant to test for possible contamination at both the Magnolia Bowl and Lee Middle School sites. Stafford mentioned that rumors about the materials used to construct the Magnolia Bowl suggest there may be a safety concern associated with removing the concrete.
Built in 1933 and nestled on the corner of Fifth Street and Fifth Avenue North, the stadium was constructed around a gully. According to local folklore, the gully was filled with old cars and then stacked with dirt before the project began.
Columbus historian Rufus Ward said he grew up hearing the rumors of what was buried beneath the Magnolia Bowl but could not guarantee if there was any truth to the matter.
"The old story is there was a gully and old cars were dumped and the dirt piled on top of it," Ward said. "It's just a story I've heard that drifts around like the Civil War tunnels under Columbus. Those do exist, but they're just sewer pipes."
Robbie Wilbur, with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, said his agency is not aware of any hazardous material buried under the bowl.
"We don't know what material, if anything, is under there. We don't see that as a health hazard right now. It's been there for years," he said.
Wilbur added though that before any type of demolition began, it would be best for organizers to have a plan in mind.
"If there needed to be clean-up, it would have to be cleaned up to whatever end use it was," he said. "Obviously a parking lot would be different from a daycare facility, so it would have to be cleaned to whatever level the property would be used."
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.