ELYRIA — It was the kind of weather perfect for a Friday night watching football under the lights.
But as people arrived at Ely Stadium just before 4:30 p.m. Thursday, the mood was one of excitement for future football games.
A backhoe parked behind a row of ceremonial shovels dug deep into a mound of dirt provided the scene for a groundbreaking ceremony to kick off the construction of a more than $14 million multisport athletic complex coming to the wooded area just south of the current 90-year-old stadium on Middle Avenue.
It’s been a long time coming for Elyria to get a new stadium.
Over the years, many have tried to garner the support needed to get the project off the ground. It was not until Elyria voters approved a $140 million bond issue to finance the replacement of the stadium and construction of new schools did the hopes of so many come to fruition.
The groundbreaking symbolized the culmination of numerous community pitches, public meetings and even a crowdfunding campaign or two all geared toward bringing a top-notch sports facility to Elyria.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Superintendent Tom Jama as he stepped to the podium. “But ground is going to get broke tonight and a stadium is going to start being built here in the very near future.”
Jama said the district never waned in wanting the stadium, but the timing never seemed right until last year when the electorate showed they were ready.
“We talked about it, we talked about it and we talked about it some more over the years,” he said. “Last November — its about 367 days ago — we passed the bond issue with the Elyria residents saying our kids, our students, our athletes, our coaches, our band members, our directors need something they can be proud of … and whether you are a Pioneer or a Wolverine, this is a stadium that will make this community proud.”
Mayor Holly Brinda, a former Elyria Schools board member, said she was happy to be on hand to turn a ceremonial shovelful of dirt. She was a board member when the district voted to build a new high school and now the same community is supporting a master plan that will replace the district’s elementary and middle schools with new energy-efficient buildings that will take the district far into the 21st century.
“Personally, I feel like I have been on a 20-year journey,” she said.
It was a sentiment shared by many.
The first turn of dirt by board members and district leadership was met with cheers and many others stood ready to snap a picture or two of the day or even grab the shovels themselves to mark the occasion.
“It’s about time,” whispered Bob Dupont, a member of the high school’s athletic booster club.
David Stahl, the manager of AECOM Construction Group of Cleveland, which is the district’s lead firm on a three-firm construction manager team, was confident and optimistic about what the next 10 months will look like at the construction site.
“We’ll be ready,” he said.
Crews will begin site work soon and will work through much of the winter to have the stadium portion of the project ready by football season. And if people are skeptical, Stahl said, his firm installed two turf fields and new bleachers at Willoughby High School in 10 weeks. The Elyria project will be more intricate because it is a full rebuild, but work will pick up pace quickly and be a sight to see for residents counting the day to the next kickoff.
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