Students returning to classes at Byrd High School this year will find a new football field.

Construction has started on Phase I of Byrd's $2 million athletics and physical education facilities. Construction crews have removed the old asphalt track, goal posts, sprinkler system as well as trees that surrounded the old track and football field. Crews have begun preparing the foundation for the new track and synthetic grass field.

On tap for Phase I of "Jacket Pride: The Campaign for Byrd Athletics" is a synthetic turf field for use by the football, soccer and lacrosse teams, along with physical education classes. It will also include a synthetic surface track to replace the current asphalt track, along with land acquisition for additional parking.

"I've been working on this for 16 years in different forms," Byrd athletic director and football coach Mike Suggs said. "I'm very excited because this has been a long process. We finally have some momentum."

The second phase of the privately funded project, which will begin once the initial project is in the books, will include construction of an approximately $2 million field house on the Kings Highway end of the complex. It will house football lockers, along with training, weight and meeting rooms, plus coaches' offices.

"We have an outstanding group of current and former parents and alumni who are behind this and making it happen," Byrd principal Jerry Badgley said. "Over the last five years, we've had $500,000 pledged for this project and Mike and I really wanted this to happen this year."

Phase 3 will include construction of a multi-purpose indoor practice facility for P.E. classes and all varsity sports, which will bring the cost of the total project to $5 million.

"That last phase might be a pipe dream, but we'll see what happens," Badgley said. "Sometimes when you get things rolling and people see that their donations are being fruitful, you gain even more momentum."

Plans are to have the first phase completed in time for fall football practices.

Byrd has been hampered by its land-locked status surrounded by Line Avenue, Kings, Creswell and Gladstone. The entire campus sits on 20 acres. Once the project is complete, the school encompass virtually the entire block, less two residences.

"We've had nowhere to go," Suggs said. "And we've had to get by with substandard facilities."

The baseball team has a stadium behind LSUS, which is where the lacrosse team practices. Both the boys and girls soccer teams practice and play games at Lee Hedges Stadium. "No longer will those teams have to leave campus to practice and I won't have to worry every day about kids on the road after school," Badgley said. "That field down there is constantly under use, so having an artificial turf on it will make it so much better for so many groups."