How Rogers Stadium construction is causing consternation around Bellefonte graduation

The wait for the Red Raiders is over, Rogers Stadium will host the Curtin Bowl

Construction continues at Bellefonte's Rogers Stadium but the field and stands were completed to host the Curtin Bowl, the rivalry football game against Bald Eagle Area on Oct. 26.
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Construction continues at Bellefonte's Rogers Stadium but the field and stands were completed to host the Curtin Bowl, the rivalry football game against Bald Eagle Area on Oct. 26.

Bellefonte Area High School’s graduation will be held indoors this year, and the construction timeline on Rogers Stadium caused an outcry from parents and students in the district.

On April 25, Resa Badger, a parent of three students in the school district, delivered a petition with 657 signatures to the school board asking them to hold graduation outdoors in Rogers Stadium instead of the gymnasium. Her statements, in part, blamed inaction and a lack of transparency from the board on the decision to not hold graduation outdoors.

“The construction of the stadium has been a very long, drawn out process, and has interfered with the students’ activities all school year,” she said. “Deadlines have come and gone, and construction has still not completed on the stadium.”

At last week’s school board meeting, BAHS senior Brock Hanscom said families were being strained by the decision to hold graduation inside.

“Multiple parents that have a situation that conflicts the amount of people that they are allowed to have attending their child’s graduation and I’ve come across a handful of fellow students that have battled within their own family on who gets to attend their own graduation,” he said.

Though Bellefonte graduation is typically held outside, said Bellefonte business manager Ken Bean on Monday, construction for the past two years and rain for another five years have kept the ceremony indoors.

The stadium is currently an active construction zone, said board President Jon Guizar at the April 25 meeting, which prohibits people from entering it.

Guizar, addressing emails and comments he received about the stadium “project being a flop,” said “nothing could be further from the truth.”

The $7 million project is currently ahead of schedule, he said, due to the ability of the school’s capital campaign to leverage $3 million in grant money before the projected start date. The rest of the project’s cost comes from $1 million in donations from the capital campaign and $3 million from the district. Some of Phase 2, which involves laying the surface of the track, could have been delayed until the fall, Guizar said, but was moved to May to allow for significant cost savings from the surfacing company.

He did acknowledge that the board could have done a better job disseminating information located on its website about the two-year stadium project.

“We’re doing the best we can; we have limited resources in the district to keep an active web page,” he said.

Rogers Stadium construction was marked by heavy rain last summer and some scheduling mishaps that led to construction delays and sports teams practicing without a field for the project’s duration.

Bellefonte Superintendent Michelle Saylor told the Express last week that the decision to hold graduation indoors after hearing community members’ concerns “was very thoughtfully made and it took hours and hours of deliberation with all the parties involved.”

Bean said even without the track surfacing occurring this month, Rogers Stadium is still an active work zone, with the digging and insertion of team rooms, restrooms and concessions stands. The decision to have the track surfacing happening in May was made roughly in February, he said.

“It’s unfortunate, but no matter when we did it — what year — it was going to interfere with something,” he said of the construction.

He said the second phase of construction is slated to wrap in mid-August, in time for the start of football season.

But there may be hope for the Class of 2020.

“I assume next year, weather permitting, (graduation) will be held outside,” Bean said.

Bellefonte graduation will be held June 7 at 7 p.m. in the high school gymnasium. Tickets are required for entrance, and the cafeteria and other rooms will serve as overflow with a live feed of the ceremony.

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Sarah Paez covers Centre County communities, government and town and gown relations for the Centre Daily Times. She studied English and Spanish at Cornell University and grew up outside of Washington, D.C.