Elodie Killins has lived in her West End home near Taft High School for 20 years. She says she has been waking up lately to her own personal earthquake, feeling her house shaking from the sounds and vibrations of construction.
Killins called the vibrations “very disturbing.”
“It almost knocked some of my pictures over,” she told WCPO Tuesday.
“I’m going to contact the builders because I don’t know how long this project is going to last and also I’m concerned about the vibrations and foundation of my house,” Killins said.
It’s been a rocky road for some residents in the nearly 365 days since FC Cincinnati first proposed to build its soccer stadium behind Taft High School, and to relocate the high school stadium there, named after beloved former Taft coach and teacher Willard Stargel, across the street.
There were hostile public meetings filled with shouting and name-calling, complaints from residents and outside agitators, fears that digging up the historic neighborhood would drive people from their homes and lead to gentrification. But in the end, calmness prevailed, the soccer team agreed to pony up $10 million to build a new high school stadium and millions more to invest in the community, and all sides pledged to make it work for the others.
It continues to be hard going for Killins and some like Monica Williams, whose catering business was displaced, but Cincinnati Public Schools gets to celebrate a milestone in its West End partnership with neighborhood residents and FC Cincinnati Wednesday morning with the groundbreaking of the new Stargel Stadium.
When the soccer stadium broke ground last month, and the first proposed November date for Stargel groundbreaking came and went, it started to look like CPS wouldn’t be able to finish the new $10 million high school stadium in time for football season in August.
But Robin Brandon, CPS Director of Facilities, assured WCPO Tuesday that it will meet the deadline.
"The equipment, the turf, stadium lights and bleachers have already been procured, so having that piece of it done gives us some peace of mind that by the first of August we’ll be done," Brandon said.
Stargel not only serves as home field for Taft but other CPS schools as well, and for soccer, track and field hockey teams along with football. With 3,000 seats, the new Stargel will have 38 fewer seats than the old one, but also additional features like an “all-purpose community room," a weight room and LED stadium lighting to go with locker rooms, larger restrooms and concession stands.
The public entrance, with the ticket office and the name “Willard Stargel Stadium” displayed in large letters, will be at the northeast corner at Ezzard Charles Drive and John Street. The new stadium, bounded by Clark Street on the south and Cutter Street on the west, will have fencing and landscaping around the perimeter.
Brandon said a late groundbreaking doesn’t mean construction is behind schedule.
“The groundbreaking is more ceremonial. We’re coordinating schedules so that our board and leadership team and the school can attend,” she said.
“We’ve already released most of our bid packages for construction. Our last large bid package is due on Feb. 5. At that point we’ll have released contracts and have contractors on board for all the phases of the construction. HGC Construction is doing the site package and they’ve been working onsite for a couple of months now,” Brandon said.
Keith Blake, a resident and president of the West End Community Council, says he hopes the stadium will be ready on time, but he won’t be upset if it isn’t.
“To me it’s not a major issue. There’s a commitment to build a stadium. It’s a construction project of significance, so there could be delays - for what we don’t know,” Blake said. “If they don’t make August, the world is not going to come to an end.”
Blake says he’s one of six community members on a stadium planning committee that meets regularly with CPS to address their concerns about things like parking, noise and lighting.
“Parking is one of the primary concerns with the neighborhood. It definitely will have an impact on the neighborhood if CPS doesn’t make accommodations for parking of events that will be hosted at the stadium,” Blake said.
Killins says a lack of parking is already a problem.
“Ever since this has taken place, once I leave in the morning, I never have a parking space until later in the evening,” Killins said.
CPS says it's working on those concerns.
“We had a covenant with the Museum Center at Union Terminal when Stargel was built years ago for parking there,” Brandon said. “We have since memorialized that covenant with them for parking there.”
Here’s what Brandon said regarding stadium lighting:
“We’ve shared some photometric drawings with them that show the light does not spill past the property line, which they were happy to hear,” she said.
As for noise, Brandon said:
“We’ve shared with them their approach to how we’re positioning speakers and I think that’s alleviated their concerns as well.”
Killins said she hopes to attend those meetings with CPS in the future.
Meanwhile, Williams, who had to move her "Just Cookin'" catering in November from the business space she rented because FC Cincinnati bought it, is still on the outside looking in.
“I’m trying to stay busy and keep from getting depressed because that’s been an issue - not being able to find a job and have places saying I’m overqualified,” she said.
"Just pretty much being tossed out back into the atmosphere and not being able to do what I’m passionate about doing, which is cooking, and not being able to fulfill my mission, which is to help people and employ people and bring good food to Cincinnati.”
She said she picked out a spot on Linn Street, but the buildout cost - $442,000 – is more than she can afford.
“I’m not angry. I’m sad,” Williams said, “because in this community we need so much more than just a stadium. We need good representation of people that is life changing and showing change in the community. And black businesses are needed!”