A deal has been reached to tear down Wilmington’s 96-year old Baynard Stadium and replace it with a new facility.
The Rocco A. and Mary Abessinio Foundation announced Monday it will donate $16 million to Salesianum School toward the construction of a new stadium and to fund the school’s endowment, which supports financial aid.
The all-boys Roman Catholic school, which uses the facility for its football games and other athletics, asserts it’s the largest donation a Delaware private school has ever received — and the third-largest to a Catholic secondary school in U.S. history.
The historic Baynard was too deteriorated for renovation and will instead be demolished, and a new glossy stadium will be named after donor Rocco Abessinio, founder and CEO of Applied Bank and Roch Capital.
Salesianum President Brendan Kennealy said the stadium improvements could not be achieved without the “historic gift.”
“Salesianum and others have had a lot of great memories at Baynard, and it was a great place to play football and have track meets, and we hope to capture some of that nostalgia — but not get stuck there,” he said. “We want to build a modern facility where the next 50 to 100 years of kids and young athletes can make new memories, too. If we’re too deferential to the past we’ll never do that.”
The construction plans include new turf, a larger eight-lane composite track, new grandstands, lights, locker rooms, press box, community room, scoreboard, concessions, office, and a maintenance facility for Delaware State Parks.
Abessinio, a 1959 Salesianum graduate who played football there, also asked the school to build a memorial for his former coach Dim Montero.
Abessinio did not agree to an interview, but said a press release that the donation was an opportunity to “ensure that students like me — the son of immigrants — have a place at Salesianum.
“With the new stadium, it’s an opportunity to share the lessons that were learned under Coach Dim Montero — teamwork, grit, discipline, and perseverance — with an audience that goes far beyond Salesianum,” he said.
The demolition is expected to begin in late spring or early summer, and after 15 months of construction, Abessinio Stadium is expected to open in the fall of 2020. Football games scheduled for 2019 will be played at other sites during the construction.
Other schools, such as Howard Technical High School and St. Elizabeth’s, also used Baynard Stadium. Kennealy expects the number of schools and groups that use the sporting facility will increase at the new Abessinio Stadium.
In October, the school entered a 50-year lease agreement with the city of Wilmington. The city now owns the stadium and the school has pledged to raise up to $20 million to rehabilitate the sports complex.
The stadium adjacent to the city’s Brandywine Park, owned by the city but managed by the State Parks and Recreation at about $100,000 a year, was built in 1922 and hasn’t been renovated since 1972. In 2016, part of the bleachers was condemned following engineering assessments.
On Monday, Wilmington Mayor Michael Purzycki said the donation is “another big step in the revitalization of the city of Wilmington. The entire community will benefit from the new stadium for years to come.”