Ken Stonebraker has been around long enough to remember when Salina Stadium was considered one of the premier football facilities in the state.
“I heard that a little bit when I first came to Salina 25 years ago, ‘boy they’ve really got a nice facility there,” ’ said Stonebraker, now athletic director and formerly football coach at Salina South High School School.
At 50 years old, though, the venerable facility was showing its age, most notably the press box that was too small for many events and badly outdated. The concession stand, restrooms and seats also needed attention.
Essentially, the complex had fallen into disrepair.
Fast forward to Thursday afternoon. Emceed by USD 305 superintendent James Hardy and with assistance from three Salina Central and three Salina South athletes, a ribbon cutting ceremony ushered in a new era for the stadium following a five-stage renovation that began approximately two years ago.
Phases 1 and 2 saw replacement of the artificial turf and locker room improvements. Phases 3 through 5, which started last summer and were completed this spring, feature a new 90-foot press box with elevator, structural improvements to the bleachers and new concession and restroom facilities.
The cost of final three phases was $3.39 million.
For Stonebraker, Thursday was Christmas in April.
“I’m just really thrilled to be part of this and see the change from when I came here over 25 years ago to what it is now,” he said, standing in the press box after the ceremony as the Salina Central and Salina South junior varsity soccer teams played on the turf below. “It’s getting back to one of the best facilities in the state.”
The press box is climate controlled with ample space for coaches, event management and print, radio and television media. There’s also room for student broadcasters working in the audio visual communications career pathway.
“It wasn’t so much the modern conveniences, even though this press box has that, it was really the space,” Stonebraker said. “The size of this compared to what we had — the hall area to walk behind and not interrupt coaches and media and people trying to do their jobs — I think is designed very well.”
The facility’s used for high school and middle school football and track and middle school football during the school year. Other community events are staged there as well, including the American Cancer Society Relay For Life and Salina Senior Games.
There was concern before the renovations the Kansas State High School Activities Association might decide not to play a state championship football game in Salina because of the stadium’s condition. The city has been the host site for state championship games since 1994.
“When we host outside events ... we’re going to bring people into this community who will stay in hotels, they’re going to buy gas, buy food,” Stonebraker said. “We certainly didn’t want to lose those events, they’re great for our community and businesses in our community.
“On top of that, I think the state wants to be in Salina. It’s centrally located, it’s easily reachable from all directions from Kansas, so I think it was important for us to do our part so we can keep those game.”
KSHSAA announced last month the 2018 Class 2A state football championship will be played at Salina Stadium on Nov. 24. Class 4A title games had been played in Salina since 2007.
Stonebraker’s eager for football season to arrive so he and Salina Central officials can further showcase the new Salina Stadium.
“Being a public school and a public entity it’s important for us to have good facilities here in our community,” he said. “I’d put this facility that we just put together up against anybody we play.”