JOHNSON COUNTY, Ind. – Friday night Center Grove opened its season with brand new home and visitor bleachers, along with a press box. The construction came after engineers found major structural issues with the bleachers earlier this year. The district decided to close the stadium for safety’s sake.
The Center Grove Trojans won a state championship last year, but there were some questions back in February and March as to whether they’d get to defend that title on their own turf come fall.
“It was very stressful and concerning at the time, but it’s really just come together,” said Richard Arkanoff, Superintendent of Center Grove Community School Corporation.
Relief for Arkanoff came Friday night as thousands of students, fans, players, and parents packed the new and improved Ray Skillman Stadium.
“They were working on this last night, people in there cleaning it, just helping everywhere they could. It was a great community effort,” he said.
In February, the school board voted to close the stadium after multiple engineering surveys found big problems with the 40-year-old home and away bleachers, like rusted nuts and bolts, unsafe support beams, and a poor foundation.
“Last year I was like, it’s not safe to sit there, yet we sat there all season,” said Doreen Gardner.
Ray Skillman Automotive paid $1.5 million for the new bleachers, which include special reserve seating areas. Mr. and Mrs. Skillman also gave roughly $400,000 for a new press box area, that features a view of the downtown Indianapolis skyline.
The $1.9 million in total improvements added roughly 2,000 seats to the stadium, bringing the capacity to 5,886.
“Really just in general, this whole entire area is really impressive compared to last year,” said Mike Coyle, “Just really looks great.”
The district said in recent years the old home bleachers were so small and would fill so fast that some people couldn’t find seats.
Parents said they’re excited about having a bigger home for years to come.
“It’s a great way to bring community, teachers, students, faculty, parents all together to enjoy sports for great competition,” said Amber McCoy, “I think it’s fantastic.”
Aesthetic work still remains on the press box.
The superintendent said other schools offered to hold events for Center Grove had they not been able to get their stadium back and running in time.