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By Colin Harris | Staff writer
When the newly remodeled Portage Community Bank Stadium opens its doors in a few weeks, the fans in attendance will see first-hand what can happen when a community rallies around a school and its athletic department.
When Ravenna Stadium was built in 1998, its modern design and innovative artificial playing surface made it one of the truly elite high school facilities in Ohio -- if not the country.
As time went on, however, the facility began to show signs of aging -- a fact not lost on Ravenna Superintendent Dennis Honkala.
In December of 2012, Honkala sat down with members of the Ravenna school system to discuss their next step in returning Ravenna Stadium to its former glory.
"We formed a committee to discuss (renovating Ravenna Stadium) and we quickly realized that we did not have the money in our general fund to cut a check for over a million dollars," Honkala said of the potential cost to refurbish the facility. "So we knew we had to come up with an alternative funding source and we asked our board of education if they would be willing to allow us to sell advertising and naming rights, as well as going after grants."
What came about from Honkala's admittedly far-fetched idea was an unprecedented show of support from a community for what was once the jewel of the city of Ravenna.
Without spending a penny of taxpayers' money, Honkala and his team have nearly raised its entire 1.1 million-dollar budget through private donations.
Honkala said that the idea of spending taxpayers' money on refurbishing the stadium and its adjacent tennis courts was never an option.
"We knew that if we were going to go to tax payers for a levy in November, then we had to raise this money from business members in the community," Honkala said.
"(Ravenna director of business operations) Bill Wisniewski and I met several times to come up with appropriate dollar amounts we would need for (each aspect of the renovations) before we went to area businesses.
Even though he had done his homework and had a clear vision for what needed to be done, Honkala admitted the finish line for this project seemed -- at the start -- like it was a million miles away.
"We knew we would have one shot at this to (raise the money)," Honkala said. "We needed to make these repairs, but we not have a Plan B if we could not (raise the private funds)."
Ravenna Stadium has gained attention recently for the blue playing surface being installed, but additional improvements include a new scoreboard, new tennis courts and a resurfacing of the stadium's track.
"We had to these repairs," Honakala restated. "Our track had deteriorated to the point where the state would not allow us to run conference or district track meets on it, and our (football playing surface) and tennis courts were in terrible shape as well."
Honkala and his team approached a number of area businesses and business leaders with their vision for the project.
Portage Community Bank was the first major name to jump on board, Honkala said, agreeing to pay 250,000 over 10 years for the naming rights to the stadium. Gilcrest Field -- the name of the playing surface -- was not for sale, Honkala added.
After that, Allen Aircraft (scoreboard naming rights), Haasz Automall (press box), the Record-Courier (road naming) and McDonalds (track surface) -- among a number of other area businesses -- jumped on board at various high-dollar amounts.
"I cannot say enough good things about (the school's partners)," Honkala said. "They're really incredible. We were on pins and needed the whole time, but they came through for us with flying colors."
While stadiums around the state may feature advertising of some kind, this kind of comprehensive naming plan is rare in Ohio.
Honkala said that, much like the stadium itself when it was first built, necessity has allowed Ravenna to innovate once more at the high school level.
"It is not common at all to see advertising like this at the High School level," Honkala said. "What I have found is this is a bigger thing in the southern states, but not here and not as comprehensive as we have here. But we knew what we would have to do this if we wanted to make the changes we needed to make."
It is important to remember that the new-look Ravenna Stadium's usefulness does not end on Friday nights in the fall.
While the stadium will host countless football games for years to come, it will also be used for area soccer and track - as well as community events like Relay For Life.
"I'm really impressed by our community of people, as well as our business community," Honkala said. "This stadium is really a jewel of Ravenna. It is going to be something we can share with our youth athletics, as well as our community.
"It's going to put Ravenna back on the map, and we're really, really excited."
Facebook: Colin Harris, Record-Courier
Maybe business owners who have received huge tax abatements in school districts that have stadiums in need of repair should take note.
Ya - while Ravenna is up with the times and has vision and initiative, Crestwood is still living in the stone age with its 60 year old high school that is falling apart, football facilities that are a joke to put it mildly (although better in the last few years), and citizens that took over 20 years to FINALLY pass a levy and invest in our future. Administration should take Ravenna's blue print and follow it.
Maybe the administration of other school systems with stadiums in need of repair and even a track should take note of this.