It’s going to happen this time

Mark Maynard, The Independent

ASHLAND — I know what you’re thinking. You’ve heard this all before about grand ol’ Putnam Stadium.

But this time is different. That sound you’re hearing may well be the engine of the crane carrying the wrecking ball to Elm Street.

It’s warming up in the bullpen, ready to take aim on the 76-year-old walls of Putnam Stadium. The stadium is tumbling down to make way for a new Putnam Stadium.

It’s happening this time. Promise.

Most of you won’t believe it until it happens and that’s understandable. But this time the boy who cried wolf isn’t fooling around.

The bids for deconstruction of the stadium and installation of new bleachers and press box passed the muster with the members of the Ashland school board on Wednesday afternoon even though the total wasn’t a lot different than the previous try last winter.

But the board made a commitment to make the necessary moves — and to do it the right way. The board members, especially Charlie Chatfield and Frank DeMartino, did their due diligence in not just rubber-stamping the approval for funding. They asked questions — lots of them — before agreeing.

Superintendent Steve Gilmore called it “an historic vote” after the board gave a unanimous blessing.

Two longtime members of the Putnam Stadium Foundation, who have been waiting for this day since 2007, celebrated quietly at the table where they were sitting. But inside I know they were giddy. It’s finally going to happen.

I promise, it’s going to happen.

Estimates on when the wrecking ball will be in place range from three weeks to a month. That should put the first part of the deconstruction around the first week in January. When that happens, of course, there’s no turning back.

Really, though, in the big picture of it all, there was no turning back anyway.

Last August, on the eve of the first home game of the Ashland Tomcat season, two sections of Putnam Stadium were deemed unsafe and 900 seats — 450 on each side — were cordoned off. A move had to be made to either start the work that had been planned for the new Putnam Stadium, or spend more money trying to shore up what simply wasn’t worth fixing.

The board did the prudent thing in deciding to proceed with the first phase of the new stadium project.

The Putnam Stadium restoration project looked like it was going to happen last winter, but the bids came back higher than expected and it was shelved.

Ashland played another season with the same surroundings fans have seen for nearly eight decades.

Everybody is going to like the new look — maroon seats and bleachers, hopefully with back rests on the home side. There will also be a new press box and new infrastructure and locker room facilities.

There will still be a lot to do — new lights, a parking lot and field turf among them — but once the wrecking ball hits, foundation chairman Greg Jackson believes more donors will come onboard.

He’s right. Something had to happen. That’s why Wednesday’s results were such good news.

“We’ve been pushing and doing everything we can,” Jackson said. “People were saying ‘Where’s the proof in the pudding?’”

The foundation will be helping with the new locker rooms and the focus will be on individual projects instead of the $4 million that’s needed to finish everything.

“We’re going to take it one project at a time,” Jackson said. “There will be a lot of fundraising activities going on once that wrecking ball hits the stadium.”

Fans who are into memorabilia will be able to buy a piece of old Putnam Stadium, he said. Information will be available at about how to purchase seats, parts of bleachers or have a donor brick named in your or a family member’s honor. Also, there is a class challenge, but only a few have entered the chase.

For the foundation, the news that the first phase of the project was official was like getting the first score in a game. Now it is ready to tack on a few more touchdowns.

Steve Conley, who has taken care of the turf at the stadium for the past 11 years, is another original member of the foundation. He saw the decision as “the light at the end of the tunnel and that tunnel has been dark for awhile. Now we’re seeing a glimmer and it’s going to keep getting bigger.”

Those who serve on the foundation board love Putnam Stadium for what it represents, not only to the school, but the community. Gilmore feels the same way.

“The Stadium is the Stadium,” he said. “You can’t lose it.”

It was through Gilmore’s interest six years ago when he became superintendent that the project really began to regain some steam, Jackson said.

“When he got involved, things started to happen.”

Gilmore has made safety a paramount issue all along, but he has a soft spot for Putnam Stadium, too.

“I told them I’m not going to be the superintendent here when the say ‘You can’t play in Putnam Stadium this year,’’’ he said. “I wasn’t going to let that happen.”

Gilmore is also convinced that once doubting Tomcat fans catch a glimpse of what the new Putnam Stadium will look like, they will be prouder than ever.

“This stadium is a community facility,” he said. They think of Putnam Stadium as theirs.”

Folks, the walls are coming down. You can count on it. I promise.

This story was originally posted by The Independent,