Anyone who has been in Orange Beach over the last two years knows there has been no shortage of construction around town. From the new Orange Beach Middle / High School to the widening of Canal Road to a new gymnasium at the Orange Beach Recreation Center, the city is wide open with work. And it will continue for the foreseeable future.
“We’re in the midst of a truly unique time in Orange Beach with so many projects under way, related to the new schools for our city and the many new facilities to support our growth,” notes Ken Grimes, City Administrator.
The community excitement surrounding the opening of the new school, the growing tradition of the Orange Beach Makos, enjoying five lanes on Canal Road, building new facilities or upgrading existing ones to meet future growth, and planning for additional community amenities, such as a new 24/7 adult fitness center and golf cart paths, all add to the quality of life in Orange Beach.
“The City Council has remained vigilant on paying down existing debt and saving when surplus revenues were gained,” Grimes adds. “This is paying off with capital investments being made with cash from city savings and no debt service. It’s a very unique situation in local government these days.”
REC CENTER COMPLEX
Currently underway on the Recreation Center campus is a $2.96 million, 17,400-square-foot Adult Fitness Center that is expected to be complete at the end of March 2021. This facility is very special as it will function as a 24/7 access to members who can enjoy it any time of day or night. A $1.46 million tennis center renovation and drainage improvement project has also started. The project, which includes eight newly rebuilt hard surface tennis courts, is expected to be finished in late September or early October 2020.
In the near future, the outside of the Recreation Center will be painted and upgraded to match the new gymnasium, which adjoins the current gym.
Down the road from the Rec Center, a $1 million project to build a new Coastal Resources office building, seawall and dock is underway and expected to be completed in early fall.
On the school front, the City Council has partnered with the Baldwin County Board of Education to build a Performing Arts Center, which is next to the new school building. While the school will greatly benefit from the center, it’s a facility for the entire community. The 35,000-square-foot center will include a 710-seat main theatre, a black box theatre that can seat up to 175 for intimate performances and a dance classroom. The total cost of the Performing Arts Center is $10.9 million with the county school system covering $1.41 million for the band and choir portion of the building with the overall city portion remaining under $10 million.
With the city's donation of 40 acres off of Canal Road to the county school system for the new school, the Public Works Department will be moving from William Silvers Parkway to a site off the Foley Beach Express, behind Columbia Southern University and Baldwin EMC. The project is expected to be completed by the end of the year, weather permitting. This new public works facility brings all aspects of the department under one roof for the first time since the city was incorporated.
Concerning athletics for the new middle and high school, following the upgrades to the lower soccer field in the fall of 2019 at the Orange Beach Sportsplex for the first-ever Mako football season, many plans are in the works to enhance athletic opportunities for student-athletes as well as the community.
In mid-June, bids will be received to renovate and expand the stadiums for a baseball field and a softball field at the Sportsplex. An alternate will be bid for a possible future construction of a covered batting facility to help serve the Orange Beach High School baseball and softball programs. The baseball stadium will be upgraded to seat nearly 500 people and the softball field will be upgraded to seat over 400, among other improvements. New LED lighting is now in place on the baseball field and expansion of the outfield fence is in the works.
Plans are on the drawing board to build a new athletic training facility, with 50 yards of covered synthetic turf field, at the corner Canal Road and William Silvers Parkway on the school property. While the revenue fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed the timetable for the project, if the city sees the economic rebound extend from May and June into the rest of the summer, things will be poised to get back on track in coming years.
In the meantime, the city is working with the county school board to renovate the old utilities field office on the southeast corner of the school property into a temporary athletic training facility of around 3,000 square foot. Work on expanding that building is expected to begin in the fall.
On the horizon, the community will see the current championship soccer field at the Sportsplex converted into the Mako football field, and the adjacent field will likely be upgraded so the city can continue to host the NAIA and SEC women’s college soccer championships each fall once all contract negotiations are finalized.
Further adding to the city’s investment, the council on June 2 awarded a $76,000 low-bid purchase of outdoor modular LED video panels that will be used as a high-tech scoreboard and/or video screen for football games and other events in the city.
Concerning road construction, the current ALDOT Canal Road widening project is expected to be complete by the end of December. At present drainage work is underway on the south side of the roadway, with intermittent lane closures. The last step in the project will be the paving. Grimes adds, “It is critical that citizens help us by slowing to 40 mph in the construction zone to keep both lanes flowing as often as possible in tight areas."
On the east side of Canal Road, work on three laning the roadway from State Highway 161 (near Doc’s Seafood) to Wilson Boulevard (near the Rec Center) is expected to begin in the fall. In addition to widening the roadway to three lanes, the project also includes limiting full access to the roadway between Highway 161 and the Orange Beach Public Library, and a roundabout will be constructed in front of the library to accommodate left-turn movements onto Canal Road west of the library - greatly improving the ability to enter and exit Canal Road from many facilities.
The city is currently working towards constructing a golf cart path from Bear Point to Highway 161. The construction of a golf cart path is expected to be incorporated into the East Canal Road three-laning project. The City Council continues to work with the engineers on the best option for the path construction and overall cost of that portion of the project, with $1.8 million covered by post-BP oil spill RESTORE funds.
ON THE HORIZON
Adding to the project tally, a new sewer utilities office building will be going vertical in coming months, which came in via bid just over $600,000 and was required due to the 40-acre donation for the new schools.
Future city projects will include a complete makeover of the Kids Park with a new playground; new Fire Station No. 5 on the western end of the city; renovations to the Justice Center for expansion of the Police Department to meet recent growth; and plans for a new replacement of Fire Station No. 1, behind City Hall.
In another five years, the city will be an even brighter jewel on Alabama’s coast with a quality of life second to none. All that is needed is a little patience.