The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

May 17, 2013

Track/field facility could see start soon in Conneaut

CONNEAUT — Nearly a generation of Conneaut scholastic track athletes have never known a home meet, thanks to a course that fell short of state requirements. That could change next year.

At two separate meetings Wednesday night, Kent Houston, Conneaut Area City Schools superintendent, announced enough funding has been received through contributions to start building some of the components of a track/field facility on eight acres of donated land opposite the Conneaut High School football field. “We have $1 million pledged to us for track,” Houston said. “We think it’s a done deal.”

Work on an eight-lane track, as well as areas for field events, could start this summer and continue into fall, Houston told members of Conneaut’s Planning Commission. Other aspects of the project, such as storage and lockerroom buildings, must wait until more money is in hand, he said. The land is bordered by Reig and Maple avenues and Madison and Center streets.

For many years, Conneaut’s track program has only participated in “away” meets for lack of a suitable facility. The school district was recently by-passed for membership in the All-American Conference, and its lack of a home track was one reason, said Gerald Eighmy, a local industrialist who donated the land to the district and also attended the meeting.

“It’s not fair, and we’re going to do something about it,” he said.

To make room for the improvement, a commercial building that sits on the land will be demolished very soon, Houston said. Quotes have already been obtained from a local contractor, he said. Conneaut’s Board of Education must still weigh in on the project, and its blessing will be sought after final drawings and blueprints are prepared, Houston told the board at its Wednesday afternoon work session.

Work on the track could dovetail with construction of a rest room/concession building at the football stadium. Bids for that building could be sought this month and construction should be finished before the start of the 2013 football season, Houston said.

The track is part of a sports complex unveiled three years ago by the CARE for Kids committee. At the time, organizers envisioned an upgraded football stadium flanked by a track/field facility and new tennis courts — all financed through donations.

The project was kick-started by serious structural problems detected at decades-old Municipal Stadium. For safety reasons, the stadium was demolished and its masonry bleachers replaced with aluminum seats. The following year, more bleachers were erected, along with a press box. This year will see the arrival of the dual-purpose building at the stadium.

Football teams will need another place to gather before kick-off and at half-time. For the past couple years, teams used the commercial building that will be razed this summer. Houston told Planning Commission members some temporary shelter, even tents, may serve as lockerrooms for home games in 2013.

The track-field complex work will also rob the football stadium of a big parking lot. Houston said he is negotiating with General Electric for use of the parking lot on the west side of its now-empty factory on Maple Avenue, a short walk from the stadium. Additional fencing and lights may be needed, he said. Fans will also be welcome to park along the many side streets near the field.

Tennis courts planned for land that once contained West Main Elementary School need more money to become a reality, commission members were told. Some $250,000 has been raised, but $600,000 is required.

CARE for Kids hope the enhance athletic facilities, which will also be available to the community, entice more people to settle in the community. Some people have opted to live elsewhere in part due to the district’s inadequate facilities, Houston said.

“People look at the amenities,” he said.

In the three years since CARE for Kids was created, nearly $2 million has been raised in cash and in-kind services, said Eighmy, a co-chairman of the group. “You’re going to see a lot going on out there,” he said.

Houston said he was very pleased with the response to date, ranging from contributions to discounts on services.

“It’s awesome how people have stepped up to help,” he said. “(Local contractors) have been treating us very well.”

Planning Commission embraced the sports complex initiative.

“I’m glad to see an aggressive plan like this,” said Ron Maki, commission chairman. “It’s long overdue.”

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