ESCALON – Long-awaited renovation and improvement work at Engel Field on the Escalon High School campus has started … and it will definitely mean some short-term pain for long-term gain.

Usually the site for both El Portal and Escalon High graduation ceremonies, those events have been moved to Modesto Junior College for this year.

El Portal Middle School’s promotion is set for Thursday, June 1; Escalon High School graduation for the Class of 2023 will be Friday, June 2. Each begins at 7 p.m. and will be hosted on the MJC East Campus on College Avenue in Modesto.

School District Superintendent Ricardo Chavez said it’s a relief to see the work started, but it will take a coordinated effort to keep the project flowing as smoothly as possible. He said parents of students affected have already been notified of the switch to MJC for promotion/graduation and site principals have already done a walk-through at the college campus.

The work is also likely to mean that the Escalon Cougars will not have any true ‘home’ football games next fall.

Funding for the work has come primarily from the ESSER III funding; ESSER is the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund, with money provided through the American Rescue Plan Act due to COVID-19.

“It was specifically put out due to the impact of COVID-19 on elementary and secondary students,” Chavez explained of the funding, with every state getting funds.

Because so many of the Escalon High School students take part in extra-curricular athletics, Chavez said the district was able to map out a plan to utilize the funds.

“We had to get approval from the state to use the dollars for those purposes; we focused on the social and emotional well-being of our students,” Chavez said, with sports seen as an outlet for students dealing with those emotional and social concerns growing out of the COVID shutdown.

Along with the ESSER money, Chavez said there have also been multiple businesses and organizations stepping up to assist, whether through financial or in-kind donations. Those include Grossi Electric, Pacific Southwest Irrigation, CT Brayton and Sons, and the Escalon High School Sports Boosters.

“The scoreboard is being donated by a community donor,” Chavez said, with the donor opting to remain anonymous.

The scope of the work includes putting in an all-weather track including long jump pits and pole vault area, a new irrigation system and drainage for the entire field/stadium complex, new goal posts, scoreboard, and new Bermudagrass for the football field.

“Once the sod goes in, it has to sit for a lengthy period,” Chavez said.

Work done over the past week included tearing out of the old goal posts, fencing, removal of existing cement around the track, taking down the old scoreboard and Engel Field/Memorial Stadium sign and tearing out the grass and existing irrigation system.

No upgrades are planned right now for stadium seating, the snack bar, restrooms or the press box, as the funding covers only the track and football field.

By the time the preliminary work is done, the Bermudagrass will go in but then will have to sit for several weeks before any further work can be completed. It’s anticipated the earliest the field would be ready for play would be mid-November of 2023.

That means the Cougars – defending state football champions – will spend the season as ‘road warriors’ and travel for their games. It hasn’t been determined yet where they might host ‘home’ games and it’s also unknown right now where the Homecoming Game will be staged. All of that will be worked out, Chavez said, with varsity head football coach and EHS Athletic Director Andrew Beam actively pursuing options with other schools.

And while the 2023 campaign might not include a true home game, Chavez said the community can be assured that the new football field and track will be worth the wait.


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