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Neel-Schaffer takes top award from ACEC chapter for soccer complex

JACKSON — By helping turn a blighted area into a beautiful park and first-class soccer complex, Neel-Schaffer Inc., has been honored by the Mississippi chapter of the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC/MS).

Neel-Schaffer received one of the top six awards for its role in the design and construction of the Columbus Soccer Complex in Columbus. Titled “Connecting our Community,” the $4.23 million project involved much more than building an athletic facility.

Built on 40 acres of a 72-acre parcel near downtown Columbus, the complex is part of a park that contains more than a mile of sidewalks and trails that are used daily by citizens for exercise. Adjacent to Highways 82 and 45 and walking distance to downtown shops and restaurants, the park is billed by Columbus officials as a gateway to their city and a link between downtown and the 2.2-mile Columbus Riverwalk, a multi-use path on the Tombigbee River Waterway.

The complex has nine lighted soccer fields (which can be parceled into two dozen smaller fields for younger kids), a football field and two restrooms and concession stands. Instead of one large parking lot, street-side parking is available throughout the park, designed to mimic a neighborhood or downtown motif while allowing easier access to the fields.

Landscape architect Edward Blake of Hattiesburg started the master plan for the park and complex, taking great care to maintain as much of the natural environment as possible. Tragically, Blake died on Aug. 30, 2010, from a heart attack while battling cancer and did not get to see the park become a reality. Blake’s protégé, Patrick Alexander, finished the design. Many century-old trees were spared and instead of rerouting a creek that runs through the park, the soccer fields were designed around the creek. Additionally, some 700 trees and bushes were strategically planted to enhance the environment.

Some 30,000 cubic yards of dirt were moved and 6,700 tons of asphalt was put down. Some 11,000 feet of concrete curb-and-gutter streets and sidewalks were installed. Less than six percent of the 8.5 acres of wetlands were disturbed.

Lowndes County funded the project. The Columbus Lowndes Recreation Authority (CLRA) maintains the park and complex.

Neel-Schaffer engineers provided design and construction management and were involved in the project from the initial feasibility study to the completion of the complex. Kevin Stafford, P.E., who works out of the Neel-Schaffer Columbus office, was the project manager.

After much discussion and public wrangling over choosing a site for the complex, design began in late 2009. Construction started in April 2011 and a grand opening was held on Sept. 22, 2012.

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