STARKVILLE — Pitching great Satchel Paige once said his Negro League contemporary James “Cool Papa” Bell was so fast, “he could flip a light switch and get into bed before the room went dark.”
Unfortunately, a statue commemorating the Starkville native Bell won’t make it that quickly from Montana to its permanent home at Cornerstone Park on Highway 25. It’s now expected to arrive in April, a month later than previously hoped, Mayor Lynn Spruill told aldermen at a Friday work session.
Bell’s likeness may still make it to town before the lights come on for the first game at the $20-million-plus baseball and softball complex, though.
Project consultant David D’Aquilla delivered the bad news at Friday’s work session that the planned opening at Cornerstone for the first weekend in March will be postponed. Frequent rainy weather on the water-retaining clay soil is delaying concrete work at the site, he said.
“I don’t want to put another date on it until we can get a better feel for what’s going to happen with our weather,” D’Aquilla said.
The delay will cause some ripples through the city’s parks system, recreation director Brandon Doherty said. Cornerstone has tournaments booked each weekend from March through June, and he’s been reaching out to their organizers about options to keep those events in the city.
“One of those is playing at the Sportsplex … and incentivize them with, ‘If you take care of us in the springtime, we’re going to take care of you in the fall,’” Doherty said.
He added rec leagues, which would have played at Cornerstone, will play the upcoming season at the Sportsplex and McKee Park.
“We want our first impression to be a good impression, and we don’t want people playing in a construction zone,” he said.
D’Aquilla said large concrete pours around the field quads are the major holdup. With soil conditions, it takes several, preferably sunny, days after a rain for the ground to dry out enough to safely bring in large concrete trucks. Otherwise, the trucks could get stuck or otherwise damage the site.
Starkville, he said, has seen greater than average rainfall in recent months, and lately the days between rains haven’t been ideal.
“The overcast days just aren’t helping us at all,” D’Aquilla said. “… Our contractor has told us he’ll work Saturdays. They’re going to bring in pump trucks so that when we can pump concrete, we’re not taking the big trucks into those areas. But we still have to get dry enough conditions to get the concrete where it doesn’t float, shift or we get a bad settle. … It’s not in anybody’s best interest for this project to linger, so everybody is doing what they can.”
Workers have poured 95 percent of the curb and gutter around the parking areas, where D’Aquilla said smaller molds and a limestone soil base helped avoid delays, and asphalt work will begin soon. Sign footings and other small concrete work has proceeded on schedule, too.
Between rain days, D’Aquilla said, workers are completing “nickel and dime” tasks, like installing backstop pads and canopy covers.
“All the fields are ready. All the fields are playable. All the fields are draining. Everything else is doing what it’s supposed to do,” he said.
T&M Steel Construction began work at Cornerstone in 2020, a year after voters approved a bond issue to build it. The contract ran through Dec. 31, 2022.
Contracts often call for liquidated damages — the contractor paying a penalty per day late — when work isn’t completed on time, but D’Aquilla said those conversations haven’t even started in this case.
“Any day they can work, they’re working, and that includes weekends,” he told The Dispatch. “I don’t feel like the contractor has been negligent. … We will look at (liquidated damages) when it’s appropriate to do so, but it’s too soon.
Spruill, speaking with The Dispatch, seemed to agree. COVID-19 and supply chain issues bogged down progress in their turn, she said, with weather only being the latest obstacle.
“The reality is no one foresaw what we’ve had to deal with the last three years,” she said. “Obviously, we’re disappointed, but weather is not something we can control. … We’re going to have a park that will be premier in the state of Mississippi and one that will make our residents proud. We’re not going to do it halfway just to get it done.”
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.
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