The Merrill Bluejays varsity football team will host their first home game of the season Aug. 26 on a brand new field at Jay Stadium.
“The first phase of the project, which includes the field, the bleacher enclosures and the south half of the plaza, and our main ticket booth entries, we anticipate to have done on Aug. 26 for our first game,” said Merrill Area Public Schools Maintenance Director Dale Bergman.
Some additional highlights of the revamped facility will be unveiled at a dedication event during Homecoming on Oct. 1. The permanent visitor bleachers also will be completed by that time.
“We have always rented bleachers for our visitor side in the past,” Bergman said.
The project is being entirely funded by donations, including a $2 million contribution from the Bierman Family Foundation. Costs for the entire stadium makeover are estimated at $3-3.2 million. With donations currently totaling about $2.4 million, the school district is only going to complete what they can afford at this time.
“We had to cut it off to where our fundraising level is at,” Bergman said. “We know what our mark is and what we want to get to, but we can only spend what we have in pocket.”
The project started with some of the most vital elements, including the playing field. Work on the facility will continue as money becomes available. Phase 2 will include a new restroom with a concession window, wrought iron fencing on the west side with accent columns and concrete on the north half of the plaza.
“As we continue fund raising, we will continue to improve our facility,” Bergman said. “I look at it as not just this one project, but an ongoing facility improvement plan.”
The new Sprint Turf synthetic playing surface is the same material used on professional football fields. The New Orleans Saints, Dallas Coybows and Minnesota Vikings stadiums all have the same product.
“We will have a pro caliber style field up here,” Bergman said.
After the old natural sod was removed, along with the piping from the old sprinkler system, new material was brought in to lay the base for the new surface. On top of the “carpet” is 170 tons of crumb rubber.
“That’s what provides the impact protection for the student athletes,” Bergman said. “The number one priority is student athlete safety.”
Aside from the new field, there will be a brand new ticket booth and formal entry into the plaza. The home bleachers will be enclosed underneath with a new concession stand built in and storage for equipment.
The project is not just about football, Bergman stressed. Significant improvements are also being made to the track and field elements of the stadium. A new scoreboard has been moved to the south end and is now capable of handling not only football, but track events as well.
The new field was also designed with soccer in mind, and the Bluejay soccer teams will be using the field this year.
“Our soccer games will be coming back from the MARC,” he said. “At this time at least the varsity games will be played at the high school.”
The rubber pellets on the surface of the playing field will melt snow faster than a natural surface, giving spring sports teams and physical education classes an earlier opportunity to get outside, Bergman noted.
And, he hopes to see marching band competitions thrive at Jay Stadium as well.
“I think it’s going to be a benefit all the way around, not just for football,” he said.
Bergman feels the new Jay Stadium will be a showpiece for the district that could help attract families to Merrill.
“It’s really one of those build it and they will come things,” Bergman said. “I believe that this will be a centerpiece in our community.”