SOLON- Kickoff is still set for 5:30 p.m., Aug. 24, against the Mount Vernon Mustangs in the first game to be played at the new, nearly-completed Spartan Stadium.
But a few items remain to be completed for the 3A-rated football arena and home of the Solon marching band, track and field, and soccer teams.
Thanks to some otherwise welcome rain, the construction schedule slowed and Solon will have to hold off on the fanfare and hoopla of a grand unveiling until Sept. 7, when the Solon footballers play the Panthers of Mt. Pleasant.
The Sept. 7 dedication ceremony will include the instrumental players in creating the multimillion dollar field and, by then, all the pieces will be in place for a proper celebration of the end of construction and beginning of life in the new Spartan Stadium.
Also holding up completion are the recognition pillars that will dot the edges of the home-side concessions patio behind the bleachers; some granite dedication plaques have yet to be completed. A few other construction details remain to be tidied and wrapped up as well. Separate team rooms for visitors and Spartans are still being finished and plumbed.
The Sept. 7 ceremony will feature former Solon coach Ed Hansen, for whom the state-of-the-art stadium press box is named.
A year ago, a decision on the playing surface was still a toss-up. Two school board members were voted down in a bid for natural grass sod. The new turf, artificial, was a preference not just for Solon football coach Kevin Miller, but the players as well. Miller predicted reduced injuries for his team while lobbying for the green carpet at a September, 2011 board meeting.
The sparkling new school field is flanked by a two-tiered home-side bleacher stand and pre-existing visitor side bleachers, both with concessions and amenities. Spartan-side bleachers are crowned by the press and coaches box, and backed by the concessions stand, restrooms, and Spartan Shop. The visitors’ side has its concession stand and team room under one roof.
Warmers are still being installed for grilled food in the concession stands where fans will queue up for snacks.
The Spartan team room building has a storage area with a wide entry for equipment and an officials changing room with lockers, toilets and showers. The Spartan team room has its own entrance and facilities, plus coach offices and a locker room to fit 60 players. Each player will have a hook and a shelf above a bench on the outer wall.
Both team rooms feature glass-block windows to allow natural light.
Barring any further last-minute delays, opening game fans will say good-bye to portable johns and hello to fully-functional restrooms with flushing toilets and sinks.
Although the team rooms might not be quite ready for the opening game, Miller said his players are revved up and ready to go against their rivals from the north, the Mount Vernon Mustangs.
“I’m extremely excited about this upcoming season,” he said, “I believe the new stadium will provide our players the opportunity to compete in one of the finest venues in Class 3A.”
Fans are excited to see the new stomping grounds of Coach Miller’s dynastic program, replete with visitor and home team locker rooms, student and band sections, and reserved parking and drop-off for fans with limited walking ability.
To reflect the new changes at the field, Solon superintendent Sam Miller and his staff have worked to update the environment of Friday night games with some admission, parking and seating rules.
Family or activity passes must be presented at the home side gate for entry; any other paying spectator can get tickets at either side.
Student fans not yet in fifth grade must be accompanied by a parent or guardian for the entire game.
Solon middle and high school students are asked to occupy a 300-seat lower-level bleacher section nearest the scoreboard on the home side. Students will not be allowed to play on the hillsides or roam the stadium but must remain seated, either with parents or in the student section.
All spectators are asked to stay in their seats and will not be allowed to roam the edges of the field or stand behind the fence around the track or on the hillside.
The Solon marching band will play from a special end zone bleacher section.
What’s the easiest path to good seats on the home side?
If you didn’t snap up one of the reserved spots next to the stadium with a football season pass for $100 like 25 diehard Spartan fans did, then you might try the high school lot first.
There are three parking lots in play for stadium events, but superintendent Miller was pushing the high school lot where a new sidewalk on the east side of the school (north side of the lot) wraps around to the entrance of the new field.
There is also parking at the softball field/Lakeview Elementary and at the Solon Recreation and Nature Area.
Drop offs are allowed only in the high school lot; not on Sovers or Racine Streets.
Parking in reserved slots next to the stadium sold out fast at $100 per space. Activities director Keith McSweeney modeled the season parking passes on a similar program at Regina High School in Iowa City. The Spartan football team will play at Regina on Aug. 31.
Solon played an intra-squad scrimmage Aug. 17 when fans were allowed to sit at the visitors’ side bleachers only.
The Solon school board took over the final stages of the project last year after a committee had come up with an initial design.
That design was revised by the board and drawn up by Shive-Hattery architects, going from a grander entrance structure,with a shared concessions plaza at the southeast end of the field, to separate home and visitor concessions stands.
In the final stages, the schools also went outside the district to hire a fundraiser, Steve Duncan.
Before his tenure, the board-appointed committee had raised just under $20,000. Before that, the Solon Booster Club brought in about $75,000 for the project.
Superintendent Miller praised Duncan’s role in the project, “Steve Duncan has played a significant role in making the stadium a functional facility. He brought new leadership and energy to the fundraising effort and continues to identify and secure funds for the project. Steve has also been an asset on the design of the facility and will continue to provide insight on its operational decisions.”
Board member Lianne Westcot said, “If there were challenging moments, they were worth it to have a good result.”
Some of the challenge was the often dismal fundraising report for the new events center and athletic field. Before and after Duncan’s tenure, the schools struggled to find in-kind or monetary donations.
The Gerdin family, of North Liberty, and associated with trucking company Heartland Express, donated $400,000 for the project following the death of company founder Russ Gerdin.
That money may have covered the rough cost of the team rooms, but the generous family requested that their donation honor a legend in Solon athletics, Ed Hansen, former football, basketball and golf coach. So the press box, perched high above the field and furnished with separate rooms for coaches, media, game officials and announcers, will bear his name.
Spartan Stadium will be a facility the community can be proud of, “one that’s versatile, welcoming, and fun,” Westcot said.
After going through a long and challenging process of designing, approving and building Spartan Stadium, school board president Dave Asprey said the new arena will be a centerpiece for the district and community.
“I’m confident that it will be a great gathering place for us to watch our students compete in many different sporting and fine arts venues and a place for them to live out the lessons that can be learned from a strong work ethic and strong character,” Asprey stated.