More than a decade of planning and fundraising came to a head Monday as elected officials and community leaders crowded John Burroughs High School Memorial Field to break ground on a long-awaited $12-million renovation of the site.
"It is a wonderful feeling, especially for the school district and the community who have worked on this for such a long time," said Burbank Unified Supt. Stan Carrizosa.
The renovation of Memorial Field is the third in an $18.5-million, three-phase capital improvement project designed to modernize decrepit athletic facilities at Jordan Middle School, and Burbank and Burroughs high schools.
Work at Jordan and Burbank has already been completed. Burroughs' Memorial Field is expected to wrap up early next year. The stadium will remain closed in the interim. Construction plans call for an extensive facelift of the stadium, including new restrooms, concession stand, lighting, synthetic track, bleachers and exterior façade.
"The bottom line is this is the biggest classroom in the city of Burbank," said Michael Hastings, former city mayor and chairman of the fundraising committee, Celebrate Gratitude. "And it is our responsibility to make it the best classroom in the city of Burbank."
The joint use project is being funded by the city and school district. The Celebrate Gratitude Committee has also raised more than $700,000. The largest single contribution — $300,000 — came from the Cusumano family, which has had more than a dozen members graduate from Burroughs High School. The Burbank Health Foundation donated $200,000, and Disney donated $50,000.
Mike Cusumano, 48, graduated from Burroughs in 1980. He and two of his brothers spent many hours on Memorial Field as members of the school football team, he said.
"The field is about 50 years old and it has gotten pretty beat up," Cusumano said. "We felt wonderful about being in a position to participate…There is a really strong personal connection."
The new stadium will service more than the Burroughs athletic programs, officials said. It is heavily used by community members who walk the track and ascend the bleacher stairs for exercise during nights and weekends.
"It is a stadium, but it is also a community center," Carrizosa said. "It is a place where we do fundraisers and concerts and events…and that is why it is such a source of pride and inspiration."
Memorial Field had long ago become a hazard, officials said. The worn wood bleachers often left visitors with unpleasant souvenirs.
"The need is tremendous….we want to send them away with great memories instead of splinters," Hastings said.
The renovation was delayed repeatedly during many years as district and city officials tried to come up with the funding, and to hammer out an agreement for the use of the field. At one juncture, construction was scheduled to being in April 2009, only to get pushed back pending approval from the Department of State Architecture.
But the wait is over, said Burroughs Principal Emilio Urioste.
"I think any time you undertake a big project you are going to [have] some delays, but the bottom line is the finished product, and the delay, will have been worth it," he said.