BY NANCY GAGNET | MIRROR REPORTER — Three years after philanthropy consulting firm Aly Steerling advised the Maumee school district of its fundraising potential, district staff, community leaders and school supporters broke ground on phase one of the $2.6 million Kazmaier Stadium renewal project. On Monday afternoon, Panther Pride Foundation board members held the ceremonial turning of the dirt, signaling the beginning of the long-awaited project. Work on the aging stadium, which was originally constructed in 1961, will include a two-story building to host special events such as class reunions, a new ADA-compliant restroom and upgrades to the existing restrooms. The home locker room and team room will also be renovated and the grass field will be replaced with turf. “It really truly is amazing what we have accomplished in the three years of formal work,” said George Chapman, chair of the Panther Pride Foundation, the fundraising arm of the project. Phase one of the project, which is expected to be completed in the fall, will also include a new home side archway and ticket booth, Panther Plaza, which is a new gathering area with picnic tables, and a new drive and gate on the visitor side. For Chapman, who said that the school funding gap is a reality that must be acknowledged, the project represents the beginning of more private investment in the school district. “This is a first step and it’s only after we put our resources forward that we can begin reallocating our resources to other areas, including academics and the arts,” he said. By upgrading facilities, families will continue to support the district, which is vital for the community, Chapman said. “This project is building up a great reputation that Maumee has and will be a source of great community pride,” he said. The groundbreaking ceremony also included comments from emcee Jordon Strack, a 2003 alumnus and the sports anchor for WTOL 11. Others speaking at the event were State Rep. Michael Sheehy, Superintendent Dr. Todd Cramer and school board president Mike Wiley. Several student-athletes spoke as well, including Kyle Robinson, Paige Loboschefski, Chloe Bunce, Brendan Kiser, Caden Brookshier and Delaney Cleghorn, who said her family has spent a lot of time participating in sports and other events at the stadium. “I truly want to thank each and every person who has helped get us where we are today,” she said. Maumee Mayor Richard Carr said that the stadium project shows the commitment to the students of today as well as future students and that future projects are also on the way for the district. “For generations, the residents of the city of Maumee have understood our responsibility to educate the children in our community. We have not only accepted that responsibility, we have welcomed that responsibility by maintaining a school system of the very highest quality,” Carr said. Credit was also given to Sarah Otis, director of Development and Alumni Relations for the Maumee City Schools’ Panther Pride Foundation, for her work in raising funds for the project. Thus far, the committee has raised $1.2 million in private donations. Efforts will continue to raise the remaining funds for the project and the school district has allocated $600,000 in permanent improvement funds to support the project. “This will mark the beginning of the path of the Maumee Pride Foundation and the partnership with Maumee City Schools,” Otis said.