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March 3, 2014

How NFL may help Windber

WINDBER — When Windber Area school officials heard the NFL Foundation plans to award grants for stadium renovations in areas like theirs, the timing seemed perfect, Windber Education Director Glen Gaye said.

The district has made no secret that Windber Stadium upgrades are near the top of its priority list for the coming years. The undertaking could cost millions of dollars.

But the clock to apply for help was quickly ticking. With just a few days to get a detailed application into the foundation’s hands, it was essentially a “fourth-and-goal play,” Gaye said.

“We only had a few days to get something together, but we had to go for it,” he said, noting the district is eyeing upgrades to the 1950s-built stadium regardless.

“The worst thing they can say is ‘No’ – and we’d be in the same position we are now.”

But they didn’t say "no," at least not yet.

Gaye said Windber received notice Friday that the application has been accepted by the NFL Foundation. The district expects to know by late March if it is a finalist for grant money.

Those who make the cut will likely meet with foundation officials sometime this spring for a site tour and other information exchanging, he said.

The funding would certainly help, Gaye said.

The district is still exploring stadium renovation options.

McKissick Associates, the district’s hired architectural group, has presented plans to the board that outline $3 million in athletics upgrades, including new ballfields as well as upgrades to the stadium and its parking.

One proposal included a new fieldhouse and weight room on the stadium site. New lighting and turf, perhaps synthetic or a mix with grass turf, are being explored.

 It’s all part of what could be a $17 million project to rejuvenate the campus district-wide over a period of several years.

The NFL Foundation’s website shows its Grassroots Program grant was created to help schools, neighborhood-based organizations and nonprofits boost the quality, safety and accessibility of local football fields.

Awards of up to $200,000 are provided.

“They are targeting low- to moderate-income school districts. We’re right in their wheelhouse,” Gaye said.

Gaye said school officials outlined the stadium’s storied history, its present condition and hopes for its future in a 200- page application last week.

Windber’s school officials turned to the local AYSO soccer chapter, Windber Youth Football League and the Windber Stadium Authority, the volunteer group that owns the stadium site, for application support letters, he said.

“From the stadium’s inception in the 1950s, it’s always been a community cornerstone,” he said, noting it was initially built through local fundraising.

Certificates were sold to area residents to raise money for the stadium, which remains under the stadium authority’s care but is used year after year by Windber schools through a rental agreement.

David Hurst covers Windber for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ tddavidhurst.

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