Catching up with Crawford Stadium

TOWAMENCIN-“I really feel like being able to provide graduation, while smaller, is really a step in the right direction. I’d love to have all 1,000 students[here at once], but just being able to have a typical ceremony with our graduates here is going to be a huge milestone in feeling normal.” 

North Penn High School Principal Pete Nicholson wants nothing more than that feeling of normalcy to return. With the rapid expansion of vaccine eligibility and conclusion of the Crawford Stadium renovation project, Nicholson truly feels that the Class of 2021 graduation ceremony is the first step in the return to pre-COVID life at NPHS.

Nicholson and I ventured out to Crawford Stadium last week to discuss the nuts and bolts of exactly how graduation will play out, and how the renovation will progress until then.

“We’ll still have 1,000 graduates, and right now we’re looking at having 5 tickets per graduate, which is the same as we have had in years past. But it’ll be spread out. There are three different times this year because of the COVID protocols and social distancing that is needed, but I think for the student and spectator experience, it’ll be the same as it always was in prior years. We’re expecting to set up the field just like it was in 2019, just with less students and spectators at each ceremony. It’s going to be an awesome event, and the Class of 2021 is really not going to see much of a difference,” Nicholson explained.

We’re expecting to set up the field just like it was in 2019, just with less students and spectators at each ceremony. It’s going to be an awesome event, and the Class of 2021 is really not going to see much of a difference.”

— NPHS Principal Pete Nicholson

Every student and family in the Class of 2021 will be sent a sign-up genius, similar to how it was done last year, to choose a time slot of either 10 a.m., 2 p.m., or 6 p.m. on Saturday, June 12, with a rain date of June 13. During our interview, Nicholson said the sign up would be sent out in early May, and on April 20, he sent a mass email announcing that selections will open Sunday, May 2, at 2 p.m.

“Last year, when we sent the sign-up genius out for graduation time slots, we did it on a Friday afternoon, but we didn’t have synchronous classes going on, school activities going on, so everyone was pretty much locked in their house. I want to hit a time where, for the most part, seniors are able to access it. We won’t, for example, have to stop a lacrosse game for kids to jump on their phones to sign up for graduation,” Nicholson said.

Each time slot is expected to fill up fairly quickly, and there will not be much flexibility, with an informal cap of 350 students (plus up to 5 loved ones per student) for each ceremony.

“There will be a little bit [of flexibility], but honestly, there can’t be a whole lot, specifically with how many spectators we can have in here safely. We really can’t go much above 350 students, which would put us at about 1,750 spectators.  I think what we found last year was, in groups of 30, we made it work, our seniors made it work, families made it work; no matter what time and date it was. We were able to keep it to groups of 30, so I think we’ll be okay keeping it to groups of roughly 350. Again, given the unknown nature of doing this for the first time, I really can’t say until I can say,” Nicholson explained. 

“[We’ll most likely be] marking off areas where roughly five people can sit and families can stay together. We’ll figure all that out as we get closer. Clearly we’ll have to delineate so we’re not crushing everyone into the same side. What we’ve always done and will continue to do this year is, at each ceremony, half the graduates will be facing this direction [towards the home side] and half will be facing that direction [towards the away side],” Nicholson added. 

At this time, there is not a plan in place to offer a virtual option for students or families that may not feel comfortable with an in-person ceremony, but that will be revisited if there is a significant number of those students.

“I haven’t specifically received any feedback from anyone that says they’re totally uncomfortable with the situation. Of course, there are kids every year that don’t participate in graduation. There are graduates that don’t come for whatever reason. Last year, it was a different time frame with COVID, but even with the great lengths we went to, there were students that didn’t feel comfortable. I’m cautiously optimistic that everyone who wants to will be able to participate in what we have planned,” Nicholson explained.

I’m cautiously optimistic that everyone who wants to will be able to participate in what we have planned.”

— Pete Nicholson

When the soon to be graduates walk into Crawford Stadium on June 12, the only noticeable discrepancy will be the rubber track, which is not slated to be laid down until the week of June 21, as explained in the March 29 Facilities and Operations Committee meeting. Graduates will walk out on blacktop, one more layer of which still needs to be poured.

The last major step is the laying down of the turf, along with interior work in the ticketing booth, bathrooms, and snack bars.

“Right now, we’re at a good spot. I had a meeting this morning, and everything seems to be on track as far as timing goes. The turf is pretty close to being laid down, and you can see all the rubber pellets that get installed in it are still sitting down on the track, so that all has to be put in to make it a finished product. There’s some finished paving that will be done in here in the next two weeks. Other than that, they’re more or less just working on interior finishes; putting in the toilets, and sinks, and lighting, all those things,” Nicholson said.

As the Class of 2020 graduation ceremonies came to an end, Nicholson was unsure of exactly what to expect from Grace Industries, the company managing the Crawford renovation project.

“[The week after graduation ended], it was like a bomb went off,” Nicholson remembered. In an instant, the beloved Crawford Stadium was being deconstructed, ripped up, and rebuilt.

Over the following months, the project was consistently ahead of schedule, with the only delays coming in the very snowy February.

“Luckily, things were ahead of schedule over the course of the summer and fall. The buildings were pretty much under roof, so they could continue some work inside, so for those weeks or months that we had snow on the ground, even though construction couldn’t be seen, there were still things going on. Our electricians were running wiring and conduit, our plumbers were working on the interiors of the buildings,” Nicholson explained. “This is my first large scale renovation that I’ve been a part of, but from my vantage point, it’s been really smooth. It really worked out well with the way things were scheduled, because there was some allowance there for a potentially harsh winter. There were no major delays or setbacks. At no point was there ever a time when anybody thought we were not going to hit the mark and be ready for graduation.”

There were no major delays or setbacks. At no point was there ever a time when anybody thought we were not going to hit the mark and be ready for graduation.”

— Pete Nicholson

A core goal of the renovation project was to make Crawford Stadium handicap accessible. Both home and away bleachers now have a ramp, so anyone in a wheelchair will be able to watch events from the stands rather than from the ground.

“For the spectator experience, the newest and the best part is the handicap accessibility. Both sides of the stadium, home and away, if you’re in a wheelchair or have trouble with stairs, you’ll still be able to get into the bleachers. It’s unlike years past, when you might be on the track or just sitting in the corner, not being able to see. You’ll be able to get up and see,” Nicholson said.

Come fall, the spectator experience will change in another monumental way; Crawford is no longer just a football stadium. It can be used for boys and girls soccer, boys and girls lacrosse, and will be equipped with an 8 lane track.

“The biggest piece for me is the fact that this is no longer just a football stadium. This is a stadium that can hold any number of different events. For spectators, they’ll be able to see more sports here, more activities in general here. It will just be a much better experience using actual toilet facilities and a handicap accessible stadium where we can get everyone in,” Nicholson said.

As we stood looking up at the bleachers, I asked Nicholson about how it will feel when the day comes where he can once again look up and see a packed student section on a Friday night.

I think if it’s September, October, whenever it is, and we’re back in this brand new beautiful stadium with a full house in the student section, I think it will mark that return to normalcy and that feeling of ‘we’ve made it through.’ It will be a celebration to be in this beautiful place.”

— Pete Nicholson

“Emotional. I honestly don’t know. It’ll be…absolutely incredible! I’ve said this often, but my favorite part of being the high school principal here at North Penn is just seeing all the activities and being a part of those things. Going to musicals, and football games, senior athlete recognitions, and all of those things that just make North Penn great. For the most part, all of that has been taken away over the last year. I think if it’s September, October, whenever it is, and we’re back in this brand new beautiful stadium with a full house in the student section, I think it will mark that return to normalcy and that feeling of ‘we’ve made it through.’ It will be a celebration to be in this beautiful place.”