Piles of jagged wood scraps sat in a heap beside the high school athletic field bleachers last Tuesday, with lighting fixtures and Milton Yellowjackets signs lumped into the mix.
The demolition marked the start of an approximately month-long project to build a new combination press box and snack bar at the Phil Hughes Field. The 30-year-old structure was leveled in 20 minutes.
“I was going to condemn it,” facilities director Bruce Cheeseman said.
The former press box, built of 2x4s, 2x6s and wooden siding, had succumbed to the elements and age. Its successor will be constructed of a wooden frame and metal siding with new windows and shutters.
“It was riddled with holes, and it was not a nice place,” said Rick Dooley, the current school board vice-chairman who ran Project Graduation fundraisers in the snack bar in 2017.
Dooley and other Project Grad parents patched the structure to keep it operating, but it was a “temporary fix,” he said.
“It’s going to look a lot nicer, coaches are going to have a better view of the field itself, it’s not going to leak,” Cheeseman said.
Cheeseman said donations from the Yellowjacket Boosters and local business owner Beverly Bronson made the project possible for this year. He said the donors have carried the bulk of the costs and may cover the entire $160,000 bill.
To date, the Boosters have committed to pay $100,000 toward the project, according to Cheeseman. The majority of these funds come from Bronson’s pull-tab ticket sales from the North Country Saloon, a restaurant and bar on Route 7.
Inside, the snack bar will be equipped with electrical outlets, sinks and lighting. The press box will get a new sound system, and it will feature a widow’s walk atop the structure for film crews to get a panoramic view of the field, according to Cheeseman. However, there will be no cooking or grilling in the building: The closest the snack bar staff will get to crafting culinary concoctions will be steaming hot dogs, he said.
More importantly to Cheeseman is the facility will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act: Plans include adding a new sidewalk and ramp to the bleachers and snack bar, he said.
The new press box is a welcome addition to the DayGlo yellow uprights and new locker room showers MHS has installed to improve the aesthetics and functionality of its field.
“You can’t ask for any better than this,” Cheeseman said, adding this is a visible indication of how taxpayer money is being spent.
“We’re not rolling the money. We’re not spending it foolishly,” he said. “With the donations that we’re getting and the improvements that we’re making, I think we’ll actually put this school on the map as far as sports goes.”
Indeed, if all goes as planned, very little general funds will go toward the project.
Bronson, the owner of the North Country Saloon on Route 7, helps the Boosters by selling $1 and $2 break-open tickets. In the past, she’s donated around $16,000 to the Milton Fire Department. She also helped the Boosters purchase a new sound system for the high school auditorium, providing $15,000 to the cause, according to Debra Phelps, the Booster’s treasurer.
Bronson’s initial plan was to change her nonprofit recipient every six months to help various organizations around town, but when she learned of the press box’s hefty price tag, she offered to continue working with the Boosters.
According to Bronson, she’s given the Boosters between $90,000 and $100,000 toward the press box and hopes to give more. After deducting almost $17,000 for the cost of the tickets and $15,000 from the auditorium project from their coffers, the Boosters have about $78,000 left to contribute to the press box, Boosters president Jennifer Tracy said.
Bronson expects to donate up to $50,000 more before her lease ends on December 31, she said. While Bronson wants to remain in Milton, she’s not yet sure where she will move her business but said the ticket sales will end at that time.
“My goal up to that point is hopefully to have given them enough money to pay for the whole press box,” she said.
With five months to go and an average $10,000 monthly donation, Bronson said she thinks she can get close to the total cost. Regardless, the Boosters have pledged to give an additional $25,000 to the cause, Phelps said.
“It’s something that’s very much needed,” Bronson said of the structure. “All of the school systems and all of the families will get to utilize it in some way or another beneficial to them.”
KJ Construction, Inc. was contracted for the project at an estimated price of $159,738. Cheeseman said the goal is to complete construction for homecoming or sometime around the end of September so fall sports can enjoy the space.
Looking out at the debris last week, he said, “We’ve got the property, we’ve got the sports, we’ve got the kids, let’s make it all happen.”