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By Stephen Bishop
More than two years of planning shifts into implementation mode Monday, April 19, with the demolition of the concession stand at Union City Area High School’s outdoor athletic complex.
The more than 30-year-old building will be torn down to make room for a new, larger facility, with handicapped accessible restrooms, new kitchen facilities and heated floors to minimize future freeze and thaw foundation issues. The new 1,200-square-foot building will be constructed of block with decorative brick siding and a green metal roof. The entire initiative will cost $590,000.
The concession stand is “Phase I” of three phases of athletic complex improvements being planned through a collaborative effort of the school district and a cadre of community volunteers.
Those volunteers – known as the Union City Sports Complex committee, or “UCSC” – had originally intended to fund the concession stand replacement project. When the pandemic significantly hampered the volunteers’ fund-raising opportunities over the past year, however, the school board elected to fund the initiative in order to have the new concession stand ready for use by this fall’s football season.
School district Superintendent Matt Bennett said the school board’s outstanding oversight of the recent $15 million renovation of Union City Area Middle-High School meant the project came in under budget. The school board decided to take some of the remaining funds and “put them towards the concession/restroom building, to give this group a shot in the arm.”
Bennett noted the UCSC volunteers work separately, “but always communicate with the school board to ensure their plans correspond with the board’s vision and long-term planning, including maintenance and upkeep.”
The concession stand is just the first of three initial phases the committee has envisioned.
Phase II, which the committee expects to undertake this year and has largely raised the funds for, would include the removal of trees immediately adjacent to the west side of the football field and track area and baseball field. This would eliminate pine needles being dropped on the track, and open up aspects of the cross-country race path.
L&D Tree Service of Union City and company owner Dan Williams gave the committee a significantly reduced rate for the project, and Construction Services of Pennsylvania (CSI), a Union City-based construction company, is donating the funds to cover the remaining tree-removal cost.
CSI owner Dan Burek, a Union City native, is a volunteer on the athletic complex committee. He has provided significant professional assistance throughout the committee’s planning process, and is donating much of that effort.
“Community – Union City – that’s why I’m doing it,” he said when asked why he’s contributing so much to the effort. “I’m doing it because I’m from here.”
The tree removal initiative is just one part of the committee’s planned “Phase II” initiative to come this year. The main aspect of Phase II is construction of new dugouts for both the baseball and softball facilities. The new dugouts will be lockable, and the home dugouts will include enclosed storage space.
Each dugout will include overhead spaces for helmet and equipment storage, and a press box will be built above the home softball dugout. New fencing is being planned, and the softball field’s backstop will be replaced.
The dugouts and related improvements are projected to cost approximately $125,000, of which the UCSC has raised $101,970 from the community to date. Those donations have come from many generous individuals, a “Pump for Sports” fundraiser at the Union City Country Fair store and matching funds from the Union City Community Foundation, from the community during the “Erie Gives” event, and even $898 from Union City teachers’ “Jeans Day” contributions.
“Phase III” for the athletic facilities is still in the planning phase, but is expected to include removal of the existing press box at the football field, and construction of a new press box on what is currently the visitor’s side of the field and that will become the home stands. The new press box will also open on its “back” side to allow for use during baseball games.
Phase III also includes enclosing the open sides of the football field bleachers to give the complex a finished look and provide some additional storage space under the bleachers. Along with demolishing the existing press box, and a new speaker system for football, track and baseball, the entire Phase III initiative is estimated to cost $378,000.
That seems like a daunting amount for volunteers to raise, but UCSC chairman Kyle Blakeslee believes it’s possible given the support exhibited to date.
“We are so appreciative and blessed by the initial outpouring of financial support,” said Blakeslee. “So many wonderful donors have already stepped up to support our cause. We have raised over $100,000 in donations and we feel like we’re scratching the surface. There are so many Union City residents and alumni that have a deep passion for the success of our school and our student athletes.”
Donations to support the initiative can be made payable to the UCASD Foundation, with a memo to “Sports Complex,” and sent to the Union City Area School District at 107 Concord St.
“We are very excited to be at the stage we can see physical improvements to the sports complex,” Blakeslee continued. “While the UCSC was unable to raise funds fast enough for the Phase I
replacement of the concession stand, we are certainly appreciative the school district has assumed responsibility for this project.
“The UCSC has raised enough money to facilitate replacement of the Phase 2 baseball and softball dugouts,” he said. “The new dugouts will be so much nicer, and there will be an upstairs press box above the softball home side dugout. Each dugout will also have lights and receptacles, which sets the stage for future lights on the ballfields.”
Blakeslee and Bennett both expressed appreciation for the collaborative effort between the volunteers and the school district.
“Our district is truly blessed to have such a dedicated and devoted group of community members taking on this endeavor,” said Bennett. “You can’t build something this special without the solid foundation this and other groups have established.”
“The collaboration between the UCSC and the school district has been awesome,” Blakeslee affirmed. “Mr. Bennett has been so supportive and passionate for positive change that benefits our students. The school board has also been very supportive each time we have met with them. Having a true team approach is so critical to our collective success.”
Blakeslee said despite the pandemic, “we are quickly gaining momentum due to the generous donations we’ve received recently, and the positive energy of the UCSC and the school district.”
“We will have Phases I and II completed this year,” he continued, “and are now targeting Phase III, in which the timing will be dependent on our ability to raise the necessary funds.”