HELENA — Anyone who's driven past Vigilante Stadium on the campus of Helena Middle School has certainly seen some changes happening to the grounds.
Approximately $750,000 was put into renovating the stadium by laying down a new track, pouring new concrete barriers on the eastern and western ends of the track, and installing new lights, speakers, and fence around the grounds. Helena Public Schools activities director Tim McMahon noted all of the renovations needed to happen, some well before they occurred.
"The track obviously was the biggest piece of it. We had some issues with our track, and it's been down 15-18 years and was peeling up and it just had to be replaced. So we decided, the same time the proposal was made, to replace the concrete walls at the end. They were kind of slanted walls and they were crumbling. Every event we had [at Vigilante Stadium], we would walk the outside lanes and pick up the concrete that had fallen off in the last couple of weeks and move it out of the way," McMahon said.
But that wasn't all.
"The light towers had to be replaced as well. Last fall, late in the season, we lost a couple of lights on individual banks and you can't get replacement parts anymore. The lights themselves were a generation from the '70s. Latest technology, just the latest technology, 50 years ago," said McMahon. "The fence at the top and the bushes that were there were a constant source of irritation, I guess, for our maintenance department. Just trying to keep them cleaned up and looking good and so we tore that out as well. The last piece that's going to happen, once the lights go up and everything else is done. We're trying to replace the sound system, the speakers, the components inside the press box, just to try and get that straightened up and working well."
McMahon said the money was not funded by the athletic budget, but rather the maintenance budget, and said the project is much like others being done around the area's schools.
"Our maintenance department has done a great job of setting aside money and working through and just coming up with a plan for how can we do this. It's very similar to the projects that are being done in schools. Jefferson Elementary, this year got a new heating system and boiler system. We have roof projects that are being done across the district. So it's from that same pot of money," said McMahon.
Though with renovations being done on Vigilante Stadium as one of the final two remaining grass-playing surfaces for football in Class AA, it begs the question: Will Vigilante become a turf surface in the future? McMahon said it's not out of the realm of possibility, but there are a lot of variables at play when making a decision like that.
"I think that's a conversation that will come about as our school board makes decisions around bonds, and are we going to look at anything with our high schools on a bond level? If not, if it's all general fund money, like this one has been, a turf field is probably double what this project was," said McMahon. "So, it's trying to identify where can we find the funding then to try and do this? Whether it's a combination of fundraise money and some district money, is it bond money. How do you get that done?" said McMahon.
While turf could be in the future, whether that's near or distant is unclear, McMahon hopes that both student-athletes and spectators enjoy the renovations done in the coming months.
"I hope that it's a better experience from a lights perspective, from the sound system, just to make everything work better for the fall. In the springtime, you know, track is a major event for us. And so I'm hopeful that our kids, our participants in track, see a new facility and understand that yeah, this is important to us."