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CANTON – It may be December but the grass has never been greener at Thurman Munson Memorial Stadium.
Workers with The Vasco Group of Massillon took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather this week to lay the synthetic infield and outfield turf at the stadium’s primary field. Workers with Maumee Bay Turf Center in Oregon, Ohio, also have used the good weather to install drainage lines in the stadium’s second baseball field, which also will have artificial turf for the first time.
The work is part of a roughly $5 million upgrade at the 32-year-old former minor league stadium through a new partnership between the city of Canton and the Canton City School District.
More: Thurman Munson stadium to become McKinley baseball home
“This whole place is getting a makeover,” said John “JR” Rinaldi, president of the Canton City Board of Education and executive specialist for the City of Canton Building Department. “Every space is going to be touched. … This is going to be a destination place for people to come.”
The school district has pledged to invest $1.6 million into the stadium at 2501 Allen Ave. SE, which serves as the home ballpark for the McKinley Bulldogs baseball teams. Besides the synthetic turf on the main baseball field, the district also has installed a new scoreboard, is building a facility that can hold two indoor major-league-sized batting cages and is replacing the fencing around the main field.
In 2022, the district plans to update the dugouts, repair or replace the foul poles, scrim, field screens and add a batting practice tunnel. The district also has pledged to replace the turf on both the main and secondary fields when needed, which is expected to cost $2 million in roughly 15 years.
Assistant Superintendent Jason Dixon said about $500,000 will be paid with money the district originally set aside for a new football turf for then-Fawcett Stadium. The money wasn’t needed for the project because Hall of Fame Village developers replaced the field. The rest of the money for the stadium will come from the district’s main operating fund, Dixon said.
The city plans to invest $3.2 million into the stadium, which is in addition to roughly $500,000 in upgrades it already has made.
The planned improvements include adding synthetic turf, lights, new bleachers, backstops and fencing to the second baseball field, which is expected to be named Hank Miller Diamond after the longtime teacher and baseball coach who founded the Hank Miller High School baseball series.
On the main field, the city intends to upgrade the lighting, picnic area, storage barn, netting, bullpen area and outdoor batting cages. It also plans to upgrade the clubhouse, press box, concession stand, parking lot, gift shop and main concourse.
Public Service Director John Highman Jr. said the city also plans to convert the secondary concession stand into a third, auxiliary locker room, which will distinguish Munson from other baseball facilities.
He said the funds will come largely from reimbursements the city received for payments it made using American Rescue Plan Act funds.
Munson gets new management
The management of the roughly 5,000-seat stadium also is undergoing an overhaul.
The Canton City school board this week authorized district representatives to execute a 25-year lease and joint facility development agreement with the city of Canton that will put the school district in charge of managing the stadium’s operations.
Canton City Council already has authorized its city representative to execute the agreement, which replaces the joint facility development and use agreement the two entities approved in February.
The Ohio Mens Senior Baseball League previously had managed the stadium for roughly a decade, but league officials were not interested in renewing its lease.
The terms of the new agreement include:
The city will continue to own the fields and facilities located on the nearly 19-acre property.
The school district will take over operating and managing the stadium, including handling all of the scheduling of events, rentals, concessions, ticketing, licensing and hiring of security and medical personnel needed for events. The district has agreed to prioritize the Ohio Mens Senior Baseball League games after it schedules its varsity and junior varsity baseball games and scrimmages.
All money received by the school district from the admittance fees, concessions, advertising, rentals and other charges will be kept by the district. The money is to be held in a separate account and used to fulfill its responsibilities under the lease.
The school district is responsible for routine maintenance and repairs, including the day-to-day interior and exterior cleaning of the stadium.
The city has reserved the right to use the stadium for the Canton City Public Health’s drive-thru clinics, if needed. It also has the right to use the stadium free of charge for city events that are scheduled in conjunction with the district.
City, school officials praise partnership
Highman said the partnership ensures the revitalization of an underused city asset and its long-term operational success.
“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” Highman said.
School officials said the agreement has been six years in the making.
McKinley’s baseball teams were displaced from Don Scott Field near McKinley High School in 2015 due to construction related to Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village. The teams moved all of their games to Munson stadium in 2016. (The varsity team had been playing some of its games at Munson stadium since 2011.) Previously, the district paid between $7,000 and $10,000 a year to use the stadium.
The district in 2018 considered building a synthetic turf field on school property, south of Souers school, as part of a partnership with the J. Babe Stearn Community Center and the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation. But the district abandoned the idea in late 2019 after its attorneys determined that combining public and private resources for the project would be legally difficult.
Rinaldi, a retired equipment manager for the Milwaukee Brewers Major League Baseball team, said if the district sought to build its own field and stadium, it would cost roughly $20 million. Even a synthetic turf baseball field with two metal dugouts would cost more than $1.7 million, he estimated.
Dixon said the district expects to hire one new employee to oversee the stadium operations. He said a second employee could be added if the volume of use warrants the hire.
The district doesn’t yet have a specific estimate for how much revenue could be generated with the stadium, but Dixon said a “high volume” of organizations and leagues are interested in renting the facility.
“Our goal is to produce a revenue stream that will support not only our baseball and softball teams but other athletic programs as well,” Dixon said.
Besides McKinley baseball games, the stadium is expected to host area college and other high school teams, as well as adult men’s baseball leagues and tournaments. District officials also plan to use the stadium to host community nights, band nights and other school events.
Nick Loukas, president of the Ohio Mens Senior Baseball League, said the league is happy to see the school district take over the management of the stadium. He said the retirement of key league officials left the nonprofit organization without anyone interested in taking on the stadium management duties.
Last year, the league, which paid to install Munson’s second baseball field several years ago, played more than 200 games at Munson with its 26 teams. Loukas said the league is looking to expand its 400-player membership by adding a division for players age 18 and older.
Loukas, who works in the city’s Engineering Department, said the league attracts players from as far as Columbus, Pittsburgh and Cleveland.
“I think a big part of that is playing at Munson,” Loukas said. “Munson is a big draw and they are willing to travel to play in that facility.”
Reach Kelli at 330-580-8339 or [email protected].
On Twitter: @kweirREP
This article originally appeared on The Repository: Munson stadium gets makeover, Canton schools takes over management