Local and state officials say the new Calhoun County Sports Complex in St. Matthews will bring economic and health opportunities to the area and offer activities for all ages.

The 28-acre complex at 600 Chestnut Street contains a tennis court, pickleball court, football field, two soccer fields, a playground and a walking track that are all now officially open to the public.

A building with a concession stand, ticket office, changing rooms and bathrooms is expected to be completed in the next several weeks, Calhoun County Administrator John McLauchlin said.

The complex is designed for use by the whole family, McLauchlin said.

“Mom and dad bring a kid to a game or practice either soccer or football, they’ve got a younger child to play on the playground while they walk around the track,” he said. “So it’s trying to get something for all ages.”

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The ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new complex was held Friday. A series of speakers included county council members, St. Matthews Mayor Helen Carson-Peterson, Calhoun County School Superintendent Ferlondo Tullock and state Rep. Russell Ott, D-St. Matthews.

Approximately 100 people attended, including students and teachers from Calhoun County’s public schools and Calhoun Academy.

The complex will be used by the schools as well as the county at large, allowing teams to practice on regulation-sized fields with lights. It will also allow travel and tournament ball to bring additional revenue into the community, which the county’s existing facilities can’t do, McLauchlin said.

Ott said the complex is a testament to the cooperation between local and state officials.

“We’re working together for every single citizen who lives within Calhoun County,” Ott said. “This is your facility. This sports complex belongs to each and every one of you. It belongs to each and every one of these beautiful young people that have come out here today – to be able to enjoy, to be able to grow, to be able to have something to do that’s positive.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are. It doesn’t matter what race you are, it doesn’t matter how much money you have, this is a place that every person in Calhoun County can come and enjoy. I’m just so proud of it.”

Ott said the community will continue to see more investment in the future.

County Council Recreation Committee Chairman Ken Westbury said about half of the land bought by the county for the complex had been used, leaving the potential for future expansion.

The complex will bring physical and mental health benefits to the community, as well as provide people with the opportunity to be more connected, he said.

The rise of charter schools and online learning has decreased the amount of in-person interaction between students, said Westbury, who served as Calhoun County Public Schools superintendent from 2006 through 2010.

“Those things mean our kids are not are not getting to know each other earlier in life unless we bring them out to something like this,” he said.

Council Chairman James Haigler said that improving recreation facilities is one of the items he’s focused on during his 30-year tenure on county council.

The complex’s pickleball – a slower-paced version of tennis – court will be ideal for older individuals, he said.

“The mayor (of St. Matthews) and I just were talking about our bones getting old and that’s from sitting around and not doing anything,” Haigler said. “So we encourage everybody to use this facility. It’s your facility and we want you to use it.”

Carson-Peterson said the lack of adequate sports facilities has been driving people to other counties. Football players had been unable to practice at the John Ford School’s field after dark because of a lack of lights, she said.

“This does make Calhoun County a better place to live, work and to play for all of us,” she said.

The $2.5 million cost of the complex at the 58-acre site was funded with a $2 million bond from the county and an additional $500,000 in state funding procured by Ott, McLauchlin said.

Construction on the complex started about nine months ago, with planning beginning about a year and a half ago, McLauchlin said.

McLauchlin thanked local officials for supporting the project, as well as partnerships with St. Matthews, local utility departments, town and county law enforcement, the Department of Transportation and the school district.

“Without you, this would still be a pine field,” he said.

There are no concrete plans for future phases of the complex, but baseball and softball facilities are a possibility, McLauchlin said. Continued development will depend on the community’s use of the existing facilities.

The first game at the complex will be played on Oct. 4, he said.

Contact the writer: cbozard@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5553. Follow on Twitter: @bozardcaleb.

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