If the ghosts of Edwards Field could return, they would be quite a diverse group of people spanning three centuries of Apopka history. It's a little slice of Americana.
It was at Edwards Field that baseball (spelled "base ball" back then) was in its infancy and was categorized as a social event. It was home to both white and "colored" teams in the 1880's.
Edwards Field survived the Great Depression when in 1929 the Apopka Baseball Club, the recreation committee, and the City received a $14,000 Works Progress Administration (better known as WPA) grant for improvements.
It even played a role in World War II when in 1944 the City leased it to the Army. The 351st Coast Artillery Search Light Battalion based its operations there.
And although there is a debate on when the grandstand was constructed (the Orange County Property Appraiser says 1970, but locals say it was built even earlier), there is no debate as to the condition it is in today.
Raymond Marsh, Apopka Building Code Administrator, gave a presentation to the City Council on Wednesday that described the state of the Edwards Field grandstands.
"The bleachers are not code-compliant and have not been since they were constructed," he said. "They have wood decay from termites, but the challenge is to the stands which are made of concrete. The first thing I noticed is that there are no hand rails which is a requirement. As I walked the steps I realized they are not up to code. Then I walked onto the bleachers, and apparently, we made the decision (years ago) to paint concrete, which does not provide traction. The full potential for an accident is pretty high."
Based on the age of the stands, and the wear-and-tear on them, Marsh believes the paint is probably lead based as well.
Commissioner Billie Dean asked Marsh the price to restore the grandstands to their former status or if repair is even possible.
"Anything can be fixed if you're willing to pay for it," he said.
Marsh made a very rough estimate of "low to mid six figures" to repair and restore the grandstand.
According to the cover page for the agenda item, the grandstand was recently vandalized which triggered an inspection by the City. Several issues were discovered and the following cost estimate prepared:
"It puts us between a rock and a hard place," said Dean. "I hate to see us lose it, but I hate to see us spend too much money trying to preserve it. But rather than just demolish it, can't we put up a memorial to honor Edwards Field?"
Our city has a wealth of history, and it should be honored," said Commissioner Kyle Becker. "But looking at it, buildings like the Highland Manor, the Lodge, the Train Depot can be used for museum purposes, business purposes, whereas I see Edwards Field used for exercise. It's not in our Master Park Plan. And looking through it... you look at other baseball fields... there's so much history, but it's not history tied up in concrete. It's history from the pictures, the memories, it's the oral history. It's the memories we hold dear. I don't think we're dishonoring the past or Mr. Edwards legacy when we write a new history for the city of Apopka. If we decide to demolish, I would suggest that (City) staff come up with a creative way to honor Edwards Field, and give it a proper sendoff."
"What I realized when I was last at Edwards Field is that families use it for impromptu football games, baseball games, softball and obviously soccer," Commissioner Doug Bankson said. "People can't do that out at Northwest (Recreation Facility). That's something I do see happening in that central park. And I do think we need someplace like that where families can just grab a ball and gloves and have some fun. Obviously, that structure is not safe, but having an area like that I think we should keep in mind as we go forward. I think if we honor and memorialize Edwards Field, that's the way to move forward."
Commissioner Diane Velazquez recalled a time when Yankee Stadium had to be torn down in New York City.
"Yankee Stadium was the stadium," she said. "And when they had to tear it down... well I can relate to the community saying 'let's not tear down those bleachers' because they are associating the cement bleachers to the field, and it's two separate entities. Let's memorialize it and bring the spirit of what Edwards Field was. But the bleachers don't serve any purpose, and they're in bad disrepair. It's a dangerous situation."
Mayor Joe Kilsheimer recalled games played at Edwards Field.
"My children played at Edwards," he said. "My daughter played softball, and my son played Little League Baseball. I played softball at Edwards Field myself. I remember when there was an ongoing, active recreation program right there at Edwards Field. It clearly is of historical value. And a lot of memories were made at Edwards Field. The question for us today in 2017 is what memories are being made today at Edwards Field? No one is making any memories using the bleachers at Edwards Field. I think we (the Council) are all of the same minds. I think if we give it the honor and emotion to memorialize it, that's the way to go."
The City Council did not vote but did ask the City staff to get pricing for the demolition of the grandstand and to bring ideas for an Edwards Field Memorial to the next City Council meeting.