MIDDLEBURY — Just like preparing Thanksgiving dinner, there is a lot of prep work involved before the actual cooking begins. There is a lot of background work that goes into building new facilities at a school before the actual construction begins.
The Middlebury Community Schools capped of five years of preparation work for new athletic facilities at Northridge High School Tuesday afternoon as ground was broken for the first phase of the project — a brand new football facility.
“We have not had any new athletic facilities here at Northridge in 30 years,” Middlebury Superintendent Jane Allen said. “We started talking about this project five years ago. Now we can begin.”
The football stadium is scheduled to be ready for the home opener with South Bend Adams on Aug. 21, 2020. The new venue will have artificial turf and a seating capacity of around 4,000 fans.
Plans for the complex, other than the construction of a football stadium, include baseball and softball fields. All of the fields will feature artificial turf playing surfaces. A building with locker rooms and a concession stand are also planned. Plans also include a nine-lane running track with state of the art field event areas.
Interra Credit Union, based in Goshen, has pledged $250,000 over the next five years for the naming rights to the football field. The football stadium will be called Interra Field.
“We have been working in this community for a long time and we are pleased to be a part of this project,” Amy Sink, Interra Credit Union CEO, said.
Interra COO Andy Marshall shared his excitement about the project and how part of him would have liked to have seen something like this happen during his own playing days.
“I played for (Northridge football coach) Tom Wogomon when he was an assistant coach at East Noble,” he said. “I wish we could have had something this nice.”
Allen introduced Jeff Palmer, Director of Facilities for the school corporation, and referred to him as the “man behind the visions.”
“We are so excited to begin work on Interra Field,” Palmer said. “When people walk in they are going to see a huge new scoreboard and seating for 4,000 fans, 3,000 on the home side and 1,000 on the visiting side.
“There are also going to be 300 stadium seats. Those are reserved seats that will be sold in advance with season tickets. Buying a stadium seat will allow fans to tailgate longer and not have to worry about finding a seat in the general admission seating.”
Upon the completion of the new Northridge High School building, the Raiders football team was in the situation of having the players get ready for daily practice sessions at the new school, which left them about one-half mile from the football field. A remedy to the problem has been to have the football team practice on a grass field on the side of the new school building.
“The new facility is going to be so great for our program. The field we are practicing on was never meant to be a football field. It has no yard lines or sidelines,” Wogomon said. “It has come a long way, but it will be nice to have a field with all of that for practice every day.”
Wogomon expressed his appreciation for the school administration and the Middlebury community in their support of the project.
“Jane (Allen) and Jeff (Palmer) have done a great job,” the coach said. “We have gone from the talking stage to the point where the actual work is going to begin.”
Northridge will be the fifth school in the Northern Lakes Conference to have an artificial playing surface for football games. Others are Goshen, Wawasee, Plymouth and Warsaw.
Northridge is the first Goshen-area school to sell naming rights to one of its athletic fields.
“Our school system has never done anything like this, but this is a great project to start on,” Allen said. “The baseball field, softball field and even the concession stand are going to be other possibilities for naming rights.”
Allen pointed out that the reason behind the upgrading of the facilities and the naming of the football field is not a tactic for recruiting athletes to come to the school.
“We want to give our athletes facilities they'd be proud of and ones that are more convenient,” she said. “Right now the baseball and softball team dress at the high school and have to drive or be bused to the game field at the old school.
“It’s natural we may have some athletes come here because of the new facilities, but that is not the purpose of what we are doing.”
The new baseball and softball fields, in addition to having turf playing fields, will have lights.
“The new fields are going to have a Major League feel to them,” Palmer said. “The dugouts are going to be sunken 18 inches into the ground and the bleachers are going to be elevated so it will be a good place to watch a game.”
“Northridge has never been able to host a sectional or regional in baseball or softball since we didn’t have lights,” Allen said. “This will give us the opportunity.”
Greg Keim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-533-2151, ext. 326. Follow Greg on Twitter @gkeim_TGN