Salesianum’s plans to remake Wilmington’s Baynard Stadium are getting a major financial boost.
The school is getting a $16 million gift from the Rocco A. & Mary Abessinio Foundation in part to tear down 96-year old facility and replace it with Abessinio Stadium.
Rocco Abessinio is a 1959 Salesianum grad.
Citing data from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, the school calls the donation the third-largest ever to a Catholic secondary school in the U.S. and the largest ever for a First State private school.
“There’s no doubt, it’s rare air certainly for a secondary school. Rocco has been very generous, he loves Salesianum,” said school President Brendan Kennealey. “I think that coming together with this community benefit here, the opportunity for Salesianum taking a leadership role to provide something that goes beyond our community, I think that helped to make this happen.”
Kennealey says the school is still seeking donations for the stadium project, and that the portion of Abessinio’s gift that is not used for the stadium will go to the endowment to support financial aid.
“His gift goes a long way. I think it also signals to others sort of a momentum,” said Kennealey. “We’re talking to a handful of other folks about making gifts, and hopefully this helps encourage them to do this as well.”
The donation comes less than two months after Wilmington City Council approved a 50-year lease agreement between the City and Salesianum for Baynard Stadium. As part of that deal Salesianum agreed to invest $15 to 20 million in the facility and operate it. The agreement guarantees non-Salesianum users a minimum of 360 hours of use a year and there will be a public calendar.
Demolition of Baynard Stadium is set to begin in late spring or early summer next year. Construction of Abessinio Stadium is expected to take just over a year and be complete in time for the 2020 football season. The stadium will feature a new turf field and expanded track, new grandstands, lights, locker rooms, press box, and community room.
The Abessinio gift will also boost Salesianum’s endowment – which helps fund student financial aid.
“Our singular greatest priority, institutionally right now is funding financial aid,” said Kennealey. “So we have, over the past few years, have rapidly increased financial aid.”
Efforts to address Baynard Stadium picked up in 2016 when a portion of the bleachers there were condemned and replaced with temporary ones.
In November 2016, city officials announced they'd struck a deal with Salesianum to lease the facility and renovate it. But Salesianum backed out just a few weeks later when City Council created a taskforce to examine funding options to remake the facility in response to pushback from some community members fearing access to inner-city groups would be stunted if a private entity controlled the field.
That taskforce was put on hold until after Mayor Mike Purzycki took office in January 2017. He created working group to review Baynard Stadium's future.
That group ultimately recommend pursuing a public/private partnership to fund Baynard’s improvements and in June 2017, the city opened a 14-day window to allow potential partners interested in pursuing such a partnership to maintain Baynard to come forward.
Salesianum was the only entity to respond and in October 2018, the city announced it once again had forged a lease agreement with the school.
Baynard Stadium was built in 1922 and has not see a significant renovation since 1972.
While Baynard Stadium is torn down and the new one built, Salesianum and other schools, teams and organizations that use the facility, including Howard and St. Elizabeth's, to find temporary homes.