Thursday, February 23rd, 2017
Boosters tout new stadium
St. Marys project plans reviewed
By Ed Gebert
Planners on Wednesday shared conceptual drawings of a possible new stadium on th. . .
ST. MARYS - Fundraising has begun to construct a new football stadium at the high school/middle school property.
Dan Burke, secretary/treasurer of the Roughriders Philanthropic Association; interim superintendent Howard Overman; and high school principal Bill Ruane on Wednesday shared their plans with St. Marys Rotarians.
"We are, in my opinion, at a crossroads with the football stadium here in St. Marys," Burke said. "We're at the point now that the current Skip Baughman Stadium has a lot of issues."
The choice boils down to repairing the crumbling stadium or building a new state-of-the-art facility at the school's main campus, where "we have a beautiful new high school/middle school, we have beautiful new artificial turf, we have a 10-lane track that can host all kinds of invitationals," Burke said.
Overman, who once coached against Baughman, a longtime St. Marys football coach, said the decision is based on one main point.
"I think the best thing to look at is, what's best for the kids? That's the big thing," he said.
The speakers agreed the best thing for students is to leave behind the Roughriders' traditional home field.
"We get the tradition, Ruane said. "To us the tradition is the hard-nosed football, it's the players, it's the coaching, it's the attitude, it's when you step out of the locker room. Now it's to the point where - what is best is moving forward. It makes sense to us that we make this move."
A committee is soliciting donations to build a $6 million stadium with a seating capacity of 3,800-4,000 - 500 more than the current stadium - with 700-750 parking spaces and access to 700 exhisting spaces at the school.
The new sports complex would be built around the existing artificial-turf field and 10-lane track, east of the school.
Skip Baughman Stadium would be dismantled and removed. Plans call for Baughman to be honored with a memorial at the entrance of the new field. Designers are working with Baughman's daughter on the memorial, Ruane said.
Rumors about the stadium's future have been circulating for months, but Burke stressed the project is not a secret.
"We want this to be understood by everybody," he said. "We want to be as transparent as we can. We want everybody to understand where we're coming from in this project."
Burke emphasized that the new facility would benefit not just the football program but also the band and the track programs. He noted that band members load instruments on game night to be driven to the armory, where the musicians change into uniform and march down South Street and onto the field. At the end of the game, the whole process is reversed.
"Right now for these band kids, every Friday night at St. Marys is an away game," he said.
A mixture of skepticism and excitement swept through the crowd as the plans were explained. Ruane described the desire to take the best of Skip Baughman Stadium, such as the community spirit and closeness to the game, and use them to make the new facility a Roughrider tradition.
"Our first goal was St. Marys football, like how the closeness, the spirit, how close you are, how it is jam-packed. We scaled down. The idea is it would be filled to capacity. We'll build it up and get that atmosphere," Ruane said.
Future plans for the Baughman site are limited by the city budget, but future uses are plentiful, mayor Pat McGowan said.
"The school came to us and said 'if we put the stadium out at the new high school, would you be interested in the land?' We're always interested in talking to and supporting the schools in any way we can, so we came up with a conceptual drawing," he said.
The plans are not set in stone, McGowan noted, but initial ideas include practice fields for the pee-wee football program and a natural-terrain amphitheater.
Moving the pee-wee fields off of the baseball fields at K.C. Geiger Park would offer a large savings in groundskeeping expenses, McGowan said, adding the amphitheater could host many theater-in-the-park and music events.
The city also is ready to try again for a pedestrian bridge over U.S. 33 to the school, McGowan added. Since the completion of the middle and high school building in 2010, parents and officials have pushed for the bridge to help improve student safety. Multiple applications to the Ohio Department of Transportation for grant funding and cooperation have failed, however, making the project impossible. ODOT is responsible for the stretch of road as it is a state route.
"We feel we have a very good chance of getting a bridge across with this (next) application," McGowan said. "We found out where we went wrong last time, and if we get that, it's 95 percent state-funded."
Responding to a question after the presentation, McGowan remarked, "Any time you bring people into the city of St. Marys, the economic impact is going to be positive. The nicer a city we have with the nicer facilities that draws people into this community, it's going to have a positive impact."
"Right now, unfortunately, we're being represented by port-a-pots and stands that are crumbling and falling apart and actually being condemned," he continued. "So I think we are doing a huge disservice to our community, to our school and to our kids."
Fundraising success will dictate when the Roughriders could move into a new home. Burke said efforts will be made to get the funding in place as soon as possible with the hope of playing the 2018 season at the new facility.
Ruane noted the traditional football atmosphere was partially lost when the old school building downtown was torn down.
"For our kids, it's an opportunity to make new memories now," he stated.
"It's exciting, but we're going to need help from everybody to get this accomplished," Overman said.