The Tomato Bowl has served the Jacksonville Independent School District for 76 years. However, with its last upgrades taking place in 1980, school officials are hoping to make some changes soon.
The aging facility in downtown Jacksonville has begun to continually show the effects of Father Time during the past decade.
On Thursday afternoon more than 100 concerned citizens gathered inside Jacksonville's Norman Activity Center to hear first hand a detailed report on the Tomato Bowl's current condition.
During the community input session, JISD Superintendent Dr. Chad Kelly also unveiled a preliminary proposal that has been formulated to modernize the Tomato Bowl, as well as plans to renovate the Career and Technical Education (CTE) Building at Jacksonville High School.
According to Kelly, addressing the needs of these two facilities is at the top of the district's list, following the construction of two new elementary schools, a girl's athletic facility (Multipurpose Complex) at Jacksonville High School and the Cook Field project, also on the Jacksonville High School campus, within the past six years.
“Before I came aboard (nearly two years ago), our Facility Use Committee deemed that replacing the two elementary schools was (the district’s) top priority because we put education first,” Kelly said. “Those projects have been complete, and we were able to get the Multipurpose Complex done with some leftover funds from those projects, and with the generosity of the Cook Foundation, the Mauldin Field renovation was able to be done last year (2016).
“The district will have to make a decision soon (concerning the Tomato Bowl); we don't have a choice. Things are to the point where in 5 to 10 years we will no longer be able to use the facility, because it won't be safe to play there.”
Pending final approval by the JISD Board of Trustees later this month, a bond issue will be included on the May 8 ballot.
Kelly said the bond issue will be approximately $20 million, with about $15 to $16 million targeted for the Tomato Bowl and the remainder used for upgrading the CTE facility.
The proposed seven-cent increase for voted bonds would mean a home valued at $100,000 before exemption would see an increase of $49.53 a year in taxes, or $4.13 per month.
A $250,000 home (before exemption) would see a projected annual tax increase of $157.50, or $13.13 per month.
According to the superintendent, the district has three options to solve the problem of the antiquated stadium, which is the home of Fightin' Indian football, boy's and girl's soccer, and is the site of Jacksonville High School graduation ceremonies.
Option 1 would be to renovate the Tomato Bowl; Option 2 calls for moving JISD athletics to Cook Field; and the final proposal is to purchase a tract of land and build a new stadium at a different location within the city.
Kelly stated that the cost to move the athletic programs to Cook Field would be about $25 million, with a brand new stadium running in the $35 to $40 million dollar range.
“If we build somewhere else, we would have to buy the land, and we would have to build parking spaces for 1,800 cars,” Kelly said. “That adds to the overall cost.”
A Tomato Bowl upgrade would replace the seating on both the home and visitors sides, as well as provide a visitors dressing room, officials dressing room and concession building in the northeast corner of the Tomato Bowl, where the tiny shared dressing rooms are now located.
A new dressing room for the home team and an accompanying concession stand would be constructed in the southwest corner of the stadium.
“Our dressing room facilities now are deplorable,” Kelly said. “It is so bad (for example) that the Ennis football team dresses at their own facility, then rides the bus two-and-a-half-hours when they play here. After the game, they get right back on the bus with all the dirt, grime and sweat from the game on their bodies because we don't have adequate shower facilities. That is unacceptable in Texas.”
The project also includes an artificial playing surface, new sound system and new stadium lights, which would bring the Tomato Bowl up to the University Interscholastic League standard.
The proposal also includes a new press box and an elevator to serve the press box.
Total seating capacity would be bumped up from 6,000 to 8,000.
The overall experience for fans would also be of better quality as women's toilet facilities would increase from eight to 46, while nine additional commodes would be available in the men's restrooms and as well as 16 more urinals.
The restoration would also make the Tomato Bowl fully compliant with the American With Disabilities Act.
Included in the cost would be improvements to Wilson Street, making it the designated handicapped parking area during Tomato Bowl events.
The street would continue to be open to the public when the Tomato Bowl is not in use, just as is the case now.
Kelly said the historical integrity of the Tomato Bowl would not be compromised if the stadium is revamped.
The front facade and walls of the Tomato Bowl would remain the same, with only the electrical panel being moved from the front entrance area. New windows for the front of the Tomato Bowl would be included.
Public reaction during Thursday's meeting was overwhelmingly positive.
“I know that stadium needs a lot of help,” Steve Wiggins, a 1969 graduate of Jacksonville High School, said following the presentation. “Maybe there are some things they could cut to make it less expensive.”
One unidentified gentleman said during the session that he would support the Tomato Bowl upgrade because it would be good for the students and the district, but most of all because it would improve the appearance of the city.
Those comments were met with a loud applause from the crowd.
Career and Technical Education Building
If passed, the bond issue would also provide the necessary funding to overhaul the CTE, which is also much needed, school officials said.
The CTE Building, located northwest of the high school cafeteria, was built in 1970 for use mainly as an agriculture facility.
Currently, there are 21 certifications being offered under the CTE umbrella, with a whopping 63-percent of all Jacksonville High School students being enrolled in at least one CTE course.
Since 2015, the number of students taking CTE courses has doubled, from 811 to 1,578, according to figures provided by Kelly.
The new proposal would increase square footage of the complex from 26,656 sq. ft. to 38,231 sq. ft.
Three new classrooms would be added, the Ag Shop space would be doubled, and a new welding shop with adequate room and ventilation would be provided, in addition to extra storage and restrooms.
JISD is presently handcuffed in further expansion of the CTE building, without a major upgrade, due to being at maximum capacity electrically.
“I'm excited about these proposals,” Al Chavira, JISD Board of Trustees member said. “It's long over due.
“We need to get people behind this because it is for our kids to have something that they can be proud of and so that all the citizens of Jacksonville can take pride in this. When the Tomato Bowl was first built by the Work Project Administration, it helped people by putting them to work. I feel it is now our turn to help our kids and the kids that will be coming along in the future by giving them a nice facility, one that they can take pride in.”