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State High Booster: Keep Memorial Field Downtown, but Build New Elsewhere

by on November 11, 2010 6:41 AM

Last week, I sat under the lights of Memorial Field, cheering on my eighth grade football player as Park Forest Middle School took on Mount Nittany Middle School in the end-of-the-season, cross-town rivalry. It was a gorgeous, fall evening. The stands were almost full. Kids were hanging out in the parklet; parents were manning the concession stand under the bleachers; and fans were outside the fence, watching from afar. It was like a Norman Rockwell picture.

Memorial Field, located in downtown State College, is truly one of a kind. Its significance to the high school and to this community is part of our local history. There is nothing like Friday nights under the lights, fall in central Pennsylvania and watching the Little Lions line up against foes who have driven hours to play our AAAA football team (a team that placed second in the state last year).

There is nothing like it if you ignore the limited seating capacity, limited accessibility for spectators with disabilities, the structural problems and the fact that the field floods when it rains. There are almost no public bathrooms. The locker rooms for our guests are outdated and embarrassing. The press and concession areas are antiquated.

Memorial Field is basically the biggest sinkhole in the borough; the area under the home stands serves as not only a pipeline for an elaborate network of phone and cable wires, but also as a drainage site for a large portion of the downtown. On more than one rainy occasion, football players at the bottom of the pile have found themselves face down in inches of water.

My brother-in-law who uses a wheelchair watches his nephews play from the parklet because he can’t see the game from the “handicapped” section.

As a SCAHS alumna, football booster, Lions season ticket holder and pragmatist, I find myself wondering if the collective nostalgia for Memorial Field is no longer making sense.

The SCASD officially identified Memorial Field as having significant issues since 2000. Local business professionals and former athletes raised nearly $750,000 to replace the turf in 2003. That turf is nearing the end of its shelf life. In 2007, some repairs were made to the home stands.  In 2008, further analysis of the visitors’ stands resulted in a closing of a portion of those seats due to concerns about the bracing wall. Those seats remain closed today.

Estimates for a total overhaul of Memorial Field are now coming in between $15 million and 17 million. Those renovations will allegedly improve the stadium, but can’t guarantee that the water problems in the sinkhole that is Memorial Field will be fixed.

Like other members of the community who participated in the facility survey that the school board conducted a few years ago, I support keeping Memorial Field as an event venue for our community. 

I don’t think it has to be the only venue. 

Let’s fix up Memorial Field as an asset to the district and to the community. Bring it up to code. Make it accessible to all patrons. Include locker-room facilities and make sure it’s safe. Keep capacity at the current number, thereby eliminating the need to add seats, bump into the parklet or Fraser Street. We can then schedule soccer, field hockey, lacrosse, middle school and other sporting opportunities there. Someone suggested we could even hold a “Nostalgia Bowl” at Memorial Field for Homecoming every year.

In the meantime, let’s empower the district to start looking at a site for a football stadium that could hold all the people who want to come into the games, would offer parking and security for the attendees, and would be state-of-the-art in accessibility and amenities. 

Perhaps the Centre Region Council of Governments or the Borough of State College would agree to partner with the district on fundraising so that the facility could be used for summer concerts, arts-festival activities and other community sporting events on a more regular basis.

Before we rule it out, shouldn’t we at least get a price comparison on building new versus renovating?

It was rumored that the State High South Building (the site of the track) was the designated site for a new stadium in the old mega-high-school plan. That would only move the troubles at Memorial to a new site. Parking, impact on neighbors, topography, etc., would be just as problematic on Westerly Parkway. Moving it out of town would help the district and local authorities to manage traffic, security and access.

Putting the stadium on land big enough to call a “campus” would offer us opportunities for expansion of our high school facilities if the need ever arises.

A new stadium could be a money-maker. The teams that now groan when they are assigned to district and regional play at Memorial Field would probably be excited to come to central Pennsylvania – home of the Penn State Nittany Lions. They would stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants and buy Penn State stuff before they head out of town. If anything, State College knows how to handle a football crowd. 

Spending this kind of money in these economic times has to be responsible and cost effective. Continuing to put athletes and spectators at risk comes with an even higher cost. Spending $17 million to “maybe” correct the problems at Memorial Field doesn’t make sense.

Among my fondest memories from high school is lining up with the other cheerleaders and the band before football games and marching down Fraser Street, through what is now the Sidney Friedman Park, to enter Memorial Field—down the ramp and onto the field before kick off. The sound of the fight song still gives me chills. Looking back, however, it was the people and the activity that created the memory, not the space.  

Memorial Field is a community asset that needs our attention. Let’s do something about maintaining it for future generations. Let’s just make sure what we do makes sense.

Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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