SALINEVILLE - What started as a discussion of improving faulty bleachers at Southern's football stadium has evolved into a boarder discussion of what can be done to improve the stadium and benefit the community. For the purpose of brainstorming ideas, superintendent John Wilson invited anyone interested to join him for an open forum discussion at the board offices last Friday. Ideas ranging from a new turf football field to a revamped parking system were put forward at the meeting. There was no shortage of ambition and excitement regarding the potential improvements that could be made. "This is a community project and getting it done can only benefit the community." said Wilson.
Discussion of improving the stadium began when athletic director Jess Krulik came to Wilson expressing concern about three rows of bleachers on the visitor's side of Southern's football stadium. The complaint was that the three rows were so low that visiting fans could not see the field. The lack of seating on the visitor side was effecting attendance by visiting fans, and in turn hurting the school profits from ticket sales. Krulik wanted to see the problem for himself so he sat in the rows in question and found they were indeed too low ."The bottom three rows are unusable; I wouldn't pay to sit in those seats." said Krulik. Although it was agreed the bleachers were an urgent issue, discussion of the stadium's seating woes led to wider talks regarding game attendance and the overall state of the stadium.
Currently Southern's bleachers hold just under 1,300 people. Wilson shared with those in attendance a tentative, unofficial goal of doubling the visitor's side seating and adding seating to the home side for a total of approximately 2,800 to 3,000 capacity seating. Wilson is working to gather quotes from businesses that install bleachers but has not yet received a concrete number.
Krulik stated he has been in contact with the athletic director at Wellsville, Don Elliot, to compare ticket revenue from the two football program's yearly rivalry game. When Wellsville hosts the game at their facility they brought in approximately $16,000 in revenue. When Southern hosted the rivalry they averaged about $8,000. "We're half of what they are. I put two reasons behind it: Seating being 85 percent of the problem and parking being the other 15. Our parking is something we have to look into. We're losing half of our gate (ticket sales)." said Krulik. Krulik stated that sporting events are not the only area in which the district is missing opportunities to involve the community and collect revenue.
"I've also discussed it with our band director, and we can't host band shows because we don't have enough seating." said Krulik
Seating and improving the stadium was on the mind of Superintendent John Wilson when he attended the Capitol Conference held by the Ohio School Board Association in Columbus. Part of the event features vendors marketing products pertaining to everything education related including sports facilities. There he encountered representatives from the Cleveland based company Sports Construction Group which does major stadium projects ranging from high school facilities to the NFL and Major League Baseball. The company was able to give Wilson a basic, preliminary blue print of what a turf field and replaced bleachers might look like as well as a tentative quote. "The initial, ball park quote I got while I was in Columbus was $650,000 ... I almost swallowed my pencil. I thought we might have to pass on this."
Wilson and other attendees of the meeting agreed the project seemed high priced but acknowledged there are options for raising the money needed for the project. A community member who wished to remain unnamed pointed out several corporations and wealthy private citizens in the area that might be willing to lend a hand in financing the project if approached in a respectful manner. "With help from donations I think we could get this down under $500,000" said Wilson of the potential community donations. Wilson informed those in attendance that Sports Construction Group also offers payment options: "What's attractive about their program is they do an eight-year lease to own, which we could do with money we already have and fit it within our budget."
A new turf field and bleachers were not the only potential projects discussed as possibilities at Friday night's meeting. The possibilities of adding an improved asphalt track and multi purpose room along side the turf field and new bleachers was also brought up. The multi purpose room would act as a new locker room for the football team, and could possibly house wrestling mats and batting cages as well. Football Coach Mike Skrinjar told those in attendance the current football locker room does not have enough locker space to comfortably accommodate the players currently on the team.
Locker rooms are not the only area in need of improvements. As one community member pointed out, track involves the most students and would generate the greatest community interest as well as the most revenue. A preliminary quote from Sports Construction Group set the cost at $800,000 for a project encompassing a turf field, asphalt track, multi purpose building and improved bleachers. As exciting as such a plan might sound Wilson advised that the process was still in its early stages: "Again, these are just ideas, we're not saying were going to do this, that's why I wanted to meet with everybody and get some direction."
The consensus of all in attendance was that, in any scenario, no tax dollars should be used and no money should be drawn from the district's general fund to pay for the project. Superintendent Wilson explained the money would be raised with permanent improvement funds set aside for the purpose of improving school property, donations and grants awarded by various programs. "Everyone in this room agrees we need to do something with the bleachers," said Wilson. "If we can do something with our field and our facility and keep it within our parameters financially that's even better."