A $10 million dollar renovation project is coming to Memorial Field, and that project could shut down the field for more than a year.
Complete closure of the field starting this spring until the project’s completion in summer or fall 2020 was one of two options that were presented Tuesday night during a community forum hosted by the State College Area School District at State High. About 50 people attended to hear updates on the project.
The other option, according to Ed Poprik, facilities director for the district, is a “stop-and-go” approach, renovating in the spring and summer and stopping in the fall, allowing football and other fall sports to utilize the field. This option would begin this spring but would take longer, with a projected completion date of spring 2021.
Either way, the full renovation project to Memorial Field, which faces persistent sinkhole issues, will include renovating the home bleachers on the east side, locker rooms, restrooms, press box, concession stand and field access ramp.
One option that was briefly discussed Tuesday but will not be put into consideration is the construction of a new, separate stadium in closer proximity to the school on an unused piece of farmland, despite complaints about space and parking downtown.
Poprik said that after all the contracting and construction for a new stadium, it would be less costly to stay downtown, adding that Memorial Field provides a “unique” Friday night atmosphere.
If the district decides to close the field completely during construction, the Little Lions would not be able to play any games at their home field during the 2019 season. Poprik said the district is still exploring what to do about the football team’s home games as well as other fall sports.
“We’ve been working daily on trying to understand the details and get a better sense of how we may accomplish this,” Poprik said.
One possible plan would be to work out a temporary stadium on one of the high school’s fields, particularly the field on the north side of the campus.
The north field already had lights installed, and will have artificial turf installed this spring, Poprik said. The next step would be adding temporary bleachers that could fit at least 1,500 people.
For Kim Lieb, a parent of a student on the football team, playing on Memorial Field is meaningful for her family.
“It’s really special and important to our family that my son play in his last year at that field,” Lieb said. “And it’s not just football, but the other kids that play on that field, for their senior year especially, should have that opportunity to finish out on that field.”
Logan Lieb, a rising senior for State College High School’s football team, echoed his mother’s concerns in closing the field, adding that his high school career has been marred by constant construction at the high school.
“As being a senior next year we’ve already gone through all the construction from my ninth grade year on,” Lieb said. “By limiting us using the field next year, it’s going to decrease my class’s relationship with the school.”
The big difference in the two plans is price. Keeping the stadium open during the fall would cost $500,000-$800,000 more and take longer to complete than a shut down, Poprik said.
“We will look at this both ways and see what pricing looks like,” Poprik said. “And we’ll discuss the better option.”
The district plans to make its decision sometime in March when the board reviews the project bids.