The city of LaFayette is considering knocking down the old Ross Abney field house, which was home to the old LaFayette High School's concessions, band room and weight room, and rebuilding it into an updated structure with two winged pavilions on each side, all the while honoring the past contribution to Johnny Cash.
The Ross Abney complex, often referred to by locals as the old LaFayette High School stadium, is located at 101 First St. in LaFayette.
The matter was discussed during the February City Council meeting, where rough first-draft graphic designs of the building were presented.
"If we are going to use Ross Abney, we've got to use it," Councilman Ben Bradford said.
Bradford said he has talked to several people in the community regarding the Ross Abney complex, as well as the walking track and field.
Bradford said the feedback he got concerning the property is that a lot of people do not feel safe there. "It's kind of a scary place," Bradford said.
Bradford said the property is surrounded by two very old buildings.
"The parking lot, it's sandwiched in between this really old Ross Abney building and then you've got the (Walker) County property on the right. You feel like you are in-between two really big buildings and there is not a lot of visibility there and then I think there is a lot of foot traffic," Bradford said. "Once again, you are in the stadium and you are kind of low (leveled on the field). You've got this huge block building right there. ... I think that adds to the feeling of you're kind of isolated over there and it's kind of creepy. So if people are going to use it as a park, it can't be a creepy place. It's got to be inviting. It's got to feel safe."
Bradford said the old Ross Abney building is in terrible shape, dilapidated and creepy-looking.
Initial concept art showcasing what a new building there would look like was shown to the council.
"This is not, by any means, a final proposal," Bradford said of the first-draft photos.
"What we would like to have is a core building over there that could be used as a gate area if you are going to have events, because eventually the whole thing will be fenced, so that you could have an event there and it can be controlled," Bradford said.
The idea would be to have the gate area two stories and have picnic areas on the right and left wings.
On the second story, there could be a dedicated area that is themed in honor of Johnny Cash's contribution to the facility.
The late Walker County Sheriff Ralph Jones arrested country star Johnny Cash in 1967 after Cash was banging on a woman's door after crashing his vehicle into the woods around Mission Ridge Road. Cash said that his arrest in Walker County ended up turning his life around.
On August 13, 1970, Cash returned to the area and performed a benefit concert in LaFayette. The concert drew thousands into the city. The money the Cash concert raised went to building the Ross Abney stadium at the old LaFayette High School.
For years residents have been wanting the city of LaFayette to acknowledge Cash's contribution to the city and make that slice of history a part of LaFayette's brand.
To learn more about how the Cash influence has emotional ties to the stadium, click on www.northwestgeorgianews.com/catwalkchatt/news/fundraiser-concert-to-help-renovate-old-lafayette-high-school-set/article_e76972f4-1500-11e5-bc43-d3df3040413b.html.
"If we are going to do something like this, the first step is deciding what to do with the building that is there now, because it can't be turned into that. That is not really feasible. What needs to happen is the building that is there needs to be removed, so that we can look at doing something else," Bradford said.
The problem with removing the current structure is that there are people who have an emotional attachment to the building, Bradford said.
"It's got some substantial water damage to the walls that is falling in. But what I would propose that we do is -- with a vision to try to turn this into something better and greater than what it is now -- take the structure that is there now, that we take the plaque that has Johnny Cash's information on it, anything that's in that wall that has any significance historically to the building, as far as the Johnny Cash plaque, or any other plaque that is in there, and the bricks from that center section, when we knock it down, we salvage some of those bricks and actually use those (in the new structure)," Bradford said.
Mayor Andy Arnold, who agreed that the structure is in bad shape, said the facility is not usable at this time and it's not going to be used as of right now considering its condition.
Arnold liked the new design concept art and said the city of LaFayette could have a nice pavilion like the ones he has seen elsewhere and, even if the design is not 100 percent like it is in the picture, that it could be close and be a positive for the city.
Bradford said the city must get on board with the Walker County Board of Education that has a facility being used there for county bus repairs and maintenance.
Bradford plans to address the matter at a future school board meeting to open up dialogue with the school and the city.
Bradford said on Thursday, Feb. 16, that the value in tearing the building down is to make the area feel safer, where a fence can be placed around it that will only allow for one entrance as well as placing lights around the property.
The goal is to reclaim the property because it is important to the city. Tearing down the dilapidated, older building, while preserving aspects of it like the Cash plaque and useable bricks, will preserve its history. Then, later down the road when it is economically feasible, a nicer and more inviting building could be erected in the location that will use some of those historical materials as part of its design.
Bradford said he would like to see private equity also play a hand in the rebuilding efforts.
Bradford said if the structure is left the way it is, the important aspects like the usable bricks and Cash plaque will be left to rot as the building continues to deteriorate through roof and water damage.