Soon, the home side of the stadium at Whitney Field will receive $282,562 in improvements.
Aluminum decking and brace supports will be added to reduce the swaying of the bleachers from left to right. The plans need to be drafted and then approved by the state. After that process, Dant Clayton will start the work.
The Norwalk City Schools board of education approved the improvements during the February meeting. Lisa Wick was the only board member to vote against the project.
Board members cited the importance and need for safety in OK’ing the improvements.
“I don’t see how in good faith we can put people in those (current) stands,” board member John Lendrum said. “What we’ve got there is not safe. I’m sorry; it’s just not.”
And while residents told the board there have been complaints about Whitney Field, administrators tell a different story.
“I’ve attended every home football game for two years and I haven’t had any (negative) feedback on the stadium,” Superintendent George Fisk said.
However, he said the most common suggestion from Norwalk High School fans is expanding the parking area or creating a better layout.
“I get a lot of calls about the bleachers on the visitors’ side. Those boards have a lot of spring to them,” Principal Brad Cooley said in a separate interview. “I hear complaints about the sound system (too).”
Football and track teams from Norwalk and St. Paul high schools use Whitney Field, which is owned by Norwalk City Schools.
St. Paul athletic director John Livengood considers Whitney Field “a great facility” and one of the finest stadiums in the Firelands Conference. St. Paul is a member of the FC while next season, Norwalk will move from the disbanded Northern Ohio League to a much larger version of the Sandusky Bay Conference.
“We are very proud of the facilities,” Livengood said. “We have spacious locker rooms. We have great lighting, turf on the sidelines. We have great parking; we have great access.”
When asked about feedback from visiting teams, he said “they feel very fortunate to play here.”
“I haven’t heard anything (negative) from a visitor or (local) fan. I think all that counts as a positive,” Livengood added.
Norwalk Catholic School President Dennis Doughty also hasn’t heard any negative feedback about the facility.
“Since the field was redone several years ago — along with the sidelines — I've heard no complaints about Whitney Field. The steps taken to make sure the field drains correctly has made it one of the best grass fields around,” said Doughty, a former St. Paul athletic director and Norwalk City Schools superintendent.
The turf sideline upgrade, completed in the summer of 2013, was done “in order to maintain good drainage and avoid mud on the sidelines,” according to school documents. The project cost about $25,000 and had been authorized by the Norwalk school board.
Whitney Field Improvement Committee
In 1985, according to school documents, Norwalk and St. Paul created the Whitney Field Improvement Committee to develop the facility, improve athletic programs for both schools and “foster (a) friendly association and cooperation among the schools and of the community of Norwalk.”
The first project for the committee was to build a new field house. It contains the concession stands, bathrooms, storage, a ticket booth and separate locker rooms for Norwalk and St. Paul.
“That was a joint project,” Livengood said.
The improvements to Whitney Field have been done so that each school benefits — regardless of which school was behind a specific project.
In 1994, the next major improvement was installing an all-weather track, which replaced the track installed in the early 1970s. Eventually, the visitors’ bleachers were demolished and Summit Motorsports Park donated new stands.
Under the guise of the Whitney Field Improvement Committee, the football lights were replaced in late July and early August of 2011, using an unspecified local grant at a cost of about $177,000.
The Norwalk and St. Paul booster clubs agreed to a contract with Coca-Cola for the installation of a new scoreboard in 2001. School records indicate the entire project cost $28,000.
In 2002, the St. Paul boosters renovated the building that now contains the visitor’s locker room. The improvements included new showers, plumbing and floor with renovations for more storage.
“There needed to be expansion there,” Livengood said.
The St. Paul athletic director since 1990 and head football coach since 1991, Livengood said there was time when the Flyers didn’t have a locker room.
“They would dress at the Monroe Street gym,” he added.
Ultimately, Livengood sees Whitney Field as a place full of great memories and a fun place to play — and watch — football. And he should know; he graduated from NHS in 1984, so he played for the Truckers, and he has coached the Flyers for 26 years.
“Whitney Field is a great facility with an awesome track, great lights, great locker rooms, (a) good surface to play on and a good location.”