MCT REGIONAL NEWS
By Jim Bissett
The Dominion Post, Morgantown, W.Va.
April 27--TO DONATE to the MHS Athletic Facilities Project, send checks to MHS Foundation, P.O. Box 1431, Morgantown, WV 26507. You can also follow the project on Facebook and Twitter.
A utility pole with stadium lights was laid out across Pony Lewis Field on Tuesday afternoon like a quarterback after a blind-side blitz.
But the infrastructure rule is that what gets torn down gets built back big.
And that's why there were a lot of smiling people walking around the stadium-turned-construction site attached to Morgantown High School for the day.
Work crews began ripping up the 84-year-old facility in earnest last week -- launching a $6 million makeover at the venerable stadium that will take in everything from new lights and turf to a refurbished press box and an additional facilities building with offices and a weight room.
Members of the project's fundraising committee came out for a groundbreaking ceremony, and were joined by Monongalia Schools' superintendent Frank Devono and other school board officials to look at the work thus far.
Tim Saab, a Morgantown banker who is chairing the committee, stood over a row of 1927-vintage concrete bleachers reduced to rubble and said he wasn't quite ready for an endzone celebration -- not just yet.
Look him up for the first game this fall, though, he said.
"Sometime in August for 'Phase I'," he said. "That's what we're shooting for right now. We want to be ready by football season."
New bleachers and lighting are part of the project's first leg, he said, to go along with new restrooms and a concession stand. New turf for the field will cap that phase of the project.
The second phase, which includes a facilities building with a weight room and other amenities, doesn't have a set deadline.
As of Tuesday, workers from Masscon, the Uniontown, Pa., contracting company doing the work, had a pretty good jump on the snap for Phase I.
Lights were coming and bleachers were being torn up. And the new concession stand being dug at the school side of the stadium was becoming more recognizable by the hour.
"That's going to be a big deal," he said.
A big deal that has already had people and groups ponying up for Pony Lewis in a big way, said Mark Nesselroad, Saab's fellow member on the committee.
"We're closing in on $750,000 1/8in private donations3/8," he said. "We need to keep that going. I think once people can really see the progress, they'll start getting excited."
Private money is critical to the project: The committee must raise $2 million in order to get another $2 million from the Monongalia County school district -- and another $2 million after that from Hazel Ruby McQuain Charitable Trust, which was set up from the estate of the late Morgantown benefactor.
Right now, Mon's school district has a $700,000 outlay for the project. If and when the committee hits that $2 million mark, Mon School Superintendent Frank Devono said the rest will follow to make the match.
School board member Joe Statler agreed with Nesselroad, saying he thinks it will happen once people start seeing the shape of Pony Lewis to come.
"That's human nature," he said. "That's how you get it going. And this is a project that needs to get going. This field gets so much use. It really is the 'community's field.' "