Lakeside High School didn't have to wait long for its new batting facility after its loan from the Columbia County school board was approved.
The Panthers baseball program will unveil the 5,600-square-foot structure with an "open house" Wednesday, but it was open for practice starting last week.
The roofed facility, which was built adjacent to the Panthers' dugout along the first-base line, is enclosed on three sides, with small gaps at the top and bottom to allow air flow. The fourth side is open to the field, so coaches can watch players while they work.
"The weather's not a factor anymore," Lakeside coach T.J. Davis said. "Even at night, when it's dark, you can still go in there and hit."
The final product includes lights, batting cages with nets and artificial turf, and two elevated mounds with plenty of space for pitchers to throw. Davis said the project cost about $37,000, with $28,000 coming from a loan. Lakeside has two years to pay back half of the balance.
The money will come from fundraisers such as a cookout held earlier this year, and a golf tournament set for Saturday at Jones Creek. The Panthers could also increase admission profits, drawing into the stadium the fans whose previous free view of the field from a nearby hillside is now restricted by the long building.
In addition to the batting facility, Lakeside coaches and parents also cut out a warning track overlaid with brick dust. They took some of the sod pulled from the warning track and brought in the infield, which coaches said was too deep. The mound was also restructured to become more symmetrical.
Lakeside will see how much of an impact the improvements make when it plays host to Greenbrier for the Panthers' home opener March 4.
"You can make it as pretty as you want, but when it comes to ... playing a game between those white lines, pretty don't matter," said Jon Johnson, Lakeside's athletic director. "It's what you do and how you do it."
Johnson said the facility might also be used by the softball team in the fall and by baseball players during the offseason. Johnson said he would also like to add a weight training area to help improve the players' stamina.
"It's our last season, so they got it up just in time," senior infielder Patrick Arrington said. "I would have liked to have it my whole high school career."
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