The Shippensburg football team is in the midst of its best season in program history.
With an 11-0 record and the No. 3 seed in the District 3 Class 5A Playoffs, the Greyhounds had its first perfect regular season in over 30 years and kicked off district play with a thrilling, 42-35 win over Solanco last week. They will host Exeter Township on Friday at Veteran’s Stadium at Memorial Park.
And while Veteran’s Stadium has been a mainstay for the football team for as long as most residents can remember, there are plenty of people who think the home field for Ship is in need of not just an upgrade, but a new location all-together.
At a board meeting on August 27, 2018, the Shippensburg School Board approved three high school improvement projects named “Flagship Proud”. Included in this initiative was a plan to build a multipurpose stadium with a turf field on the high school campus. At an estimated $2.2 million, the costly project was planned for use for the 2020-2021 year and would include a turf field, track resurfacing, bleachers, press box, fencing and storm water management. Count Ship football coach Eric Foust as one who was all-in on the project, but the events that have followed has left Foust “bouncing his head off the same wall.”
“We go through this process every four or five years,” he said. “We talk about building a new stadium, but then it gets political. Then, the park says they’re going to make improvements to the field, but that never happens either. Then we’re just back in the same circle.”
At a board meeting on April 23, 2019, JMT Engineering made a presentation with a first look at the design of the stadium. They also updated the timeline for the completion of the project, which would receive board approval in November, bid out contracts from December through February, and hope to have construction completed by August 2020.
But not everyone in Shippensburg likes the idea of using so much money to build a new stadium and would like that money to go toward education for the students. Some of those people include residents aiming to earn seats on the Shippensburg School Board. Two candidates running in District A, Jim Bard and Charles Suders, explicitly stated that their priority for the upcoming year is to stop the building of the stadium, according to an election preview at cumberlink.com.
When it comes to paying for the project, the district stated that it will not increase taxes to fund the project and plans to use money from the Fund Balance. The Fund Balance is used for large or unexpected one-time expenses. The balance grows over years of conservative budgeting and fiscally efficient practices, and when overall revenues and receipts exceed expenditures, those extra funds go into the Fund Balance. For example, the district used $2.1 million of the Fund Balance in 2017-18 for roofs at the high school, middle school and central office, $200 thousand for elementary math textbooks and $100 thousand to purchase Chromebooks.
“This isn’t money that can be used to hire more teachers or social workers,” Foust said. “I think people need to consider the fact that we don’t have the best stadium around. Every place we go is nicer than ours, and when you consider the way our program has grown over the years, that is frustrating to me.”
For Foust, there are two major pieces missing with Ship’s current facility: sufficient team rooms and a fence around the field. Foust enjoys playing on grass compared to turf, but he believes the turf field will serve as a significant benefit to the soccer and field hockey teams.
“The fence around the field is a huge safety concern to me as a coach,” Foust said. “Football fans have become a lot more vocal and involved over the years. Not having that fence around us is a danger to both the coaches and the players.
“And I’ve been asking for better team rooms at the stadium for 18 years. We have our JV kids sit outside during halftime, because we don’t have enough room for our whole team. How is that fair to those kids?”
The Shippensburg Area Athletic Association recently teamed up with Shippensburg Park and Rec Authority and the Cumberland Valley Hitmen Organization to begin fundraising for an improvement project at Veteran’s Stadium. The upgrades include renovations to the home and away team rooms, which will be located within the concrete bleachers. The project budget is $200 thousand.
Said Foust, “But their renovations still don’t include a fence around the field and it never can as long as the baseball field is there.
“Also, their upgrade has them putting infield dirt from the baseball field back onto the football field. And they can’t prevent that lip from the dirt to the grass, and that’s dangerous for the players.”
Another big issue among those against the stadium is storm water management, but Foust counters that those same people failed to worry about it during past projects, and he believes the school has done more to alleviate those issues than anyone else.
Foust said, “I think if our school wants to do this right, they have two choices: 1. The school leases the stadium, and the park plays their baseball games at the high school, or 2. The park just makes the stadium a baseball field, and we play at the school. But ultimately, we just need to figure it out. We’re stuck in this ugly rut as far as the stadium is concerned, and it’s frustrating.”
And while Foust and others continue to push for the construction of a new stadium, he knows the politics and eventual outcome of the school board election could have the biggest effect on where the project goes from here.