Plywood and concrete blocks cover the main entrance and restroom doors at Carl Lewton Stadium in Carthage after structural issues were found in the fieldstone construction. City officials have decided the fieldstone stadium cannot be saved. GLOBE FILE

After weeks of exploring all possible options and speaking with contractors and experts to see what was feasible, the Carthage City Council Public Services Committee reluctantly decided to tear down the historic “Rock Stadium.”

Council member Brandi Ensor noted her feeling of frustration before casting her vote in favor of the decision.

Member Ed Hardesty said it was the same for him. “It just absolutely kills me,” he said. “I feel like I let everybody down. The people who are calling us now, they don’t know what lengths we’ve gone to to try to save it.”

Two weeks after receiving word from the city’s contract engineer, Jason Eckhart, that the concrete that makes up the stands at Carl Lewton Stadium was cracked, full of holes and likely unstable, the committee voted unanimously to accept a $65,000 bid from Peck Schrader Excavating to tear down the bleachers and the outfield wall.

Peck Schrader’s was the lowest of four bids submitted. The other bids were $67,000 from Davey Dirt Works in Lamar, $85,872 from B&D Yardbuilders in Joplin and $117,000 from Big Johns Heavy Equipment in Diamond.

No other option

The committee had told Abi Almandinger, parks director, and the city staff to seek bids to tear the stadium down but shore up and save the stadium’s famous fieldstone facade that gave it its nickname, but Almandinger said the four contractors who replied to the city request for bids all said saving the facade wasn’t feasible because of the way the stadium was built.

Almandinger said the contractors all told her the concrete stands and the rock wall are supporting each other, so when one is removed, the other will fall in.

“We talked about boring holes in it and filling it with concrete to create the safety structure we needed,” Almandinger said. “We talked about shoring up the wall. We talked about bracing it. We talked about replacing the steel. We talked about replacing the concrete. We evaluated all of those things. We got four bids, we talked to the city engineer, we talked to an architect who is an expert in his field, and every single one of them have said it’s not possible to keep the wall upright.”

The idea of tearing down the cinderblock outfield wall was new to the council members on the committee, and they asked why that had to be done.

City Administrator Greg Dagnan said, “There’s one wall on the west side that’s fine; it’s new. But as you start going around to the outfield and coming back in, those walls are all full of water, the caps broken. They’re in bad shape.”

Almandinger said this was not the outcome she wanted, but the city had exhausted all options.

“I can promise you guys that I have cried over this,” Almandinger said. “You guys know me, this is not something I walked into and said hey, let’s take this down. I care very much about historic preservation and if there was literally any way we could save this I would promise you we would be talking about that option and going to other places for funding about this. It’s just not possible.”

The committee instructed city administrators to save all the rocks they could from the stadium facade for reuse in some fashion.

The city also plans to preserve the baseball field and the stone backstop behind home plate and work to make the baseball field usable for the Carthage Tigers baseball team at least until the school district determines whether it can build a baseball stadium on the Carthage High School campus.

Voters going to the polls April 4 will decide a $26 million school bond issue that is intended to build a performing arts center and a baseball field at the high school.

No ulterior motiveHardesty referred to rumors around town that closing Carl Lewton Stadium was somehow connected to the school bond issues when he asked Dagnan, “Is there an ulterior motive for taking this thing down and using that property?”

“I’m actually glad you asked that,” Dagnan replied. “There is absolutely no ulterior motive. We’re keeping it a baseball field. We’re going to extra lengths to keep it a baseball field. We had the contractors come out and bid it in a way where we would not hurt the baseball field.”

Dagnan said Carl Lewton Stadium is the only regulation high school-size baseball field in Carthage and that no matter what voters decide as far as the school district’s plans, the city could decide it still needs a baseball field of that size in the future.

Dagnan said the city has its parks, but it doesn’t have much of a public recreation program to go with its parks, something it might want to work on in the future.

“What we had talked about was this needs to stay a baseball field until our tenant moves out,” he said. “Then hopefully we’re a little further along and we can decide, ‘Is this valuable for our rotation as a ball field or is it not?’ and at that point, we might decide do we, as a city, still need a high school regulation ball field. That is a discussion that is at least two years from now. That is the only discussion we’ve had other than it still needs to remain a ball field.”

Background Carl Lewton Stadium was originally built as a Depression era Works Progress Administration project in the late 1930s and was home field for two minor league baseball teams in the KOM (Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri) League in the 1940s and 1950s. It was originally built as an amphitheater and converted to a baseball stadium soon after it was built. The city closed the stadium in January after an engineer found electrical problems and structural cracking sufficient to deem the structure unsafe for use. The Carthage Tigers Baseball team, the stadium’s only current user, will play its home games in 2023 in Joplin. The stadium, also known as “The Rock,” is named for Carl Lewton, a former baseball coach and umpire and teacher and administrator in the Carthage School District.

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