Fairgrounds

A photo from last year shows Paul Tyson Field before the start of a Vanguard College Preparatory School football game. Rides for the Heart of Texas Fair are visible in the background.

The county plans to demolish Paul Tyson Field, built in 1961, and put a replacement with the same name at the site of the city-owned Cobbs Recycling Center, which is also slated to be demolished.

Waco Independent School District recently signed off on the Paul Tyson land swap, the last approval needed for a reshuffling of property between the district, the city of Waco and McLennan County to make room for an estimated $40 million expansion of the Extraco Events Center and revamp of much of the 60 acres surrounding it.

Voters approved county taxes on hotels and rental cars some 16 months ago to make the project possible, but some details remain unclear. The Waco ISD board’s 6-1 vote last month was the last approval needed for the three-way land swap to move forward.

After an hour and a half in closed session, the Waco ISD board approved an agreement to give Paul Tyson Field, and a 1.6 acre property located west of 44th Street, to the county.

Before the vote, board members Allen Sykes, Norman Manning and Angela Tekell said they had unanswered questions about the land agreement, but they voted in support of the measure. Larry Perez to cast the sole dissenting vote because he still had lingering questions, he said.

“To me, there are so many unanswered questions that we still need to talk with the county and the city,” Perez said. “I’m unhappy with it.”

Board President Pat Atkins said the questions relate to details of how the stadium will be built and how its new location will affect traffic flow around Waco High School.

The county plans to spend $2.4 million on a new stadium with an eighteenth the seating capacity of the current Paul Tyson, and the district may be left to pay to have some features included in the replacement.

“There were questions about if you move it closer to the school how will it impact traffic flow, what are the anticipated costs of building what we need to continue using this for the same purposes of Paul Tyson.” Atkins said. “We were working on those to agree on a scope of work that everybody could be comfortable with.”

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Waco resident Jessie Courtney disposes of materials at the City of Waco Cobbs Recycling Center, which is slated to be demolished in the coming years to make way for a new Paul Tyson Field. No decision has been made on a replacement for the recycling center.

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City of Waco employees Lorenzo Gutierrez (left) and Walter Benn take materials from a customer at the Cobbs Recycling Center.

Paul Tyson’s replacement stadium is expected to be built at the site of the city-owned Cobbs Recycling Center, which will also be demolished, according to the current agreement. The city has not made a decision on a replacement for the recycling center, but officials recognize it is an important city service, Assistant City Manager Bradley Ford said.

Paul Tyson currently has 9,000 seats, but the replacement Paul Tyson is slated to have just 490 bleacher seats, Waco ISD spokesman Kyle DeBeer said.

The district may pay out-of-pocket for upgrades including artificial turf and additional stadium seating, but a final decision has yet to be made, Atkins said.

For decades, Waco and University high school football teams competed under the lights of Paul Tyson stadium, named for Waco High School coach Paul Tyson. Recently, Waco ISD track athletes have used the area for practice and invitational track meets.

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Paul Tyson Field, built in 1961, is set to be demolished and replaced with a facility by the same name inthe coming years.

For now, on Fridays, the stadium’s lights shine on Live Oak Classical School and Vanguard College Preparatory School home football games.

“Waco ISD has been great to work with,” Live Oak head coach Brice Helton said just before a home game at the stadium. “That will be hard because I was over there just this morning painting lines. They’ve been great to us.”

Live Oak will play one more football season at Paul Tyson before moving to the school’s downtown practice field. The school plans to build a new football stadium downtown in the coming years.

Land swap

As part of the land swap, the city agreed to transfer the Lake Air Little League fields, about 9.5 acres, and the recycling center, 11.2 acres, to the school district with the understanding the county will build replacement Little League fields, including one for the special-needs focused Challenger Little League, west of 44th Street.

Challenger Little League co-founder Lupe Rosas said he was unaware the three parties had come to an agreement.

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A Challenger Little League athlete rounds the bases on opening day of this year's season. The Lake Air  and Challenger Little League fields are slated to be relocated as part of an overhaul of the fairgrounds.

“The last word we got was that they (Waco ISD) were the last ones holding up that plan,” Rosas said.

Now that Challenger has expanded to 220 children, Rosas said he worries the team has outgrown the field originally allotted to the group.

“The problem with that whole area over there, there’s just not enough room to expand,” he said. “We’re in the process now of thinking about having to move.”

Ultimately, he and co-founder Michelle McCollum would like to build an all-sports special needs facility.

“The city has been real good to us, but it’s to the point where we have to do something,” he said. “We’d like to sit down with the city and the (Extraco) Coliseum, because they are the big major players in this thing.”

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Fairgrounds

A groundskeeper prepares a softball field for the opening day of this year's Challenger Little League season. The league also uses a field with a track-like surface on the baselines. The fields are slated to be relocated as part of an overhaul of the fairgrounds.

Now that Waco ISD sealed the deal, the city of Waco is eager to move on to the next stage in the project, said Ford, the assistant city manager.

“We are looking forward with meeting with our partners at the county and WISD to really detail out what improvements can occur with the funding that’s been approved in the venue project and ensuring we have a really quality facility from a baseball-softball standpoint, park standpoint, and the needs of WISD and the county as well,” Ford said.

But exact details of the work remain fuzzy, he said.

‘Real work’ begins

Once the entities’ respective lawyers work out the details of the land transaction, “the real work” will begin, County Judge Scott Felton said.

“The whole purpose of building these improvements were to increase tourism, people coming to visit our community for events,” Felton said. “This is primarily to drive the economic impact of tourism.”

County, city and district officials will meet Monday to discuss the plan in greater detail, Waco ISD Assistant Superintendent of Operations Israel Carrera said.

“Since we’re moving forward, I know it’s my desire and (Superintendent) Dr. (A. Marcus) Nelson’s desire too, to advocate for the best facilities that we can provide for our students,” Carrera said. “We’re going to take a positive outlook on this. I’m hoping that all of the organizations there will play fair and equally with each other.”


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Lauren Dodd has covered education for the Tribune-Herald since May 2018. A native of Beaumont, Dodd attended Rhodes College and joined the Tribune-Herald in 2018. She previously worked as a reporter at the Seguin Gazette and the Killeen Daily Herald.

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