A second life for seats Transplants: Memorial Stadium's stands are being sold to help area schools spruce up aging facilities.

January 23, 1998|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

It's not clear what will happen to the scoreboards, toilet seats and concession stands. Or where the brass commemorative plaques of Johnny Unitas and Brooks Robinson will end up.

But the dismantling of Memorial Stadium has begun -- some of its seats are on the way to high schools in Howard and Harford counties.

This month, North Harford High School and the Howard County Department of Education bought more than half the 12,000 seats available, with the idea of sprucing up their aging stadiums with a dash of Maryland athletic lore.

"We feel honored to be part of the stadium that had all that history, to be able to preserve that and let young people benefit from that in the future," said Wayne Schuckle, president of the boosters club at North Harford High in Pylesville, which bought 366 aluminum seats from the Maryland Stadium Authority.

"We'll definitely play up the fact that, hey, this is part of Memorial Stadium," he said.

The stadium bleacher seating for sale is barely a year and a half old, said Eli Eisenberg, who is in charge of the sale for the stadium authority. It suffered no damage during fans' much-publicized looting last month after the Ravens' final game at the stadium.

Used for 23 events, the seats were installed during a renovation in 1996 before the Ravens' arrival and are among the most marketable items at Memorial, he said. Schools got first dibs.

"We really don't know what's happening to most of this stuff [at the stadium], but we are actively marketing the stadium seats," Eisenberg said. "We want to help recoup some of the funding we set aside [for renovations], and we want to keep this equipment in the state of Maryland."

The stadium authority, which is in charge of the city-owned stadium until the Ravens start play in their new stadium Aug. 8., first contacted every school district in the state, then schools in Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia to offer the seats for sale, he said. Negotiations are under way with at least three Maryland school systems, he said.

The process of taking apart the stadium that had been home to, among others, the Colts, Orioles, Ravens and the Baltimore Bays soccer team for more than 44 years began two weeks ago when North Harford High picked up its seats.

Using a borrowed furniture truck and a few dozen volunteers on a recent Saturday, school volunteers unbolted two sets of seats that once straddled the baseball dugouts. Immediately, volunteers -- including current and former North Harford football players -- felt the pull of history.

"While we were down there, it was sort of like being a kid in a candy shop, looking around," Schuckle said. "The football players, the first thing they did when we got there was go down on the field. No one thought to bring a football, but they pretended like they had one.

"The older folks definitely had a gleam in their eyes," he said. "Every now and then, we'd be working, you'd look up and there'd be someone on the 50-yard line just standing around, looking."

North Harford's seats cost about $10,500 and were paid for by the school booster club and county government. They will be used to upgrade the dilapidated visitors seating on its athletic field and possibly expand its home seating as early as this spring, Schuckle said.

Earlier this month, the Howard County school board approved $155,688 to buy 6,487 seats at the north end of Memorial Stadium, beyond the end zone. New seats would have cost nearly $280,000, according to Ted Ludicke, a purchaser with Howard schools.

After more than eight months of discussions and negotiations, Howard bought only the seats, floorboards, risers and aisle stairs, not the steel support structure, Ludicke said.

The equipment will reinforce old wooden stadiums at six Howard County high schools: Howard, Atholton, Oakland Mills, Hammond, Mount Hebron and Glenelg, he said. Installations will begin this summer and the seats could be in use as soon as the next football season, he said.

The stadiums at Howard High, the county's oldest high school, need upgrading the most and will be the first to get the new aluminum seating, he said.

Vince Parnell, athletic director at Howard, noting an incident last year in which a woman in the stands fell through a rotten wooden board, said: "There is obviously going to be a safety component to this. Our seats are old and worn out, and this is kind of bringing us up to snuff with the rest of the schools."

Howard school employees will pick up the seats in the next two months, Ludicke said.

At Memorial, the next item to be stripped will be the field itself: sod, underground pipes and heating, Eisenberg said. It will be moved to the new Ravens stadium in the next six to 10 weeks, he said.

Also on the "definitely will move" list are turnstiles and a bronze urn once displayed at Memorial that holds soil from military cemeteries around the world where U.S. soldiers are buried.

It is not clear what will happen to such equipment as furniture, signs and sound system components. Some items, such as the display of Colts and Orioles players' numbers in a so-called Ring of Honor, might not be removable.

Stadium authority officials, who will work out a plan for the goods over the summer, said some might be sold at auctions.

Of interest to most Baltimoreans are the much-coveted individual stadium seats, which will be for sale in September.

"These will have tremendous popularity," Eisenberg said. "Probably to individual customers who will want them in their basement or their back yard as mementos or whatever."

Pub Date: 1/23/98

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