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Voters tackle stadium issue again

Oak Harbor’s championship football team drew large crowds last fall, but fans were greeted by an old Memorial Stadium that has a number of problems, among them lack of accessibility to the disabled, deteriorating wooden bench seating, and a playing field unsuitable for state playoff competition. Voters will be asked to replace the staduim as part of the bond issue proposal on March 11. - Jim Woolbright
Oak Harbor’s championship football team drew large crowds last fall, but fans were greeted by an old Memorial Stadium that has a number of problems, among them lack of accessibility to the disabled, deteriorating wooden bench seating, and a playing field unsuitable for state playoff competition. Voters will be asked to replace the staduim as part of the bond issue proposal on March 11.
— image credit: Jim Woolbright

Deteriorating floorboards and seats, lack of grandstand cover and poor field drainage are just a few of the complaints voiced over the years about Oak Harbor’s 50-year-old Memorial Stadium.

These long-debated stadium issues along with high school track problems may be put to rest, depending on the outcome of the March 11 bond levy.

The $45 million proposal to upgrade the high school includes money for a new stadium, track and sports fields.

The conceptual idea of the complex has it being built adjacent to the high school on what is now a practice field. The plans for the facility consist of covered grandstands and an artificial “Astroturf” field surface surrounded by a track.

“It would be a first class facility that should be able to be used for a long time,” said Oak Harbor Athletic Director Jeff Stone.

Cost reduced

this election

The facility is virtually identical to the plan proposed to voters in May of 2001. That vote fell short of the 60 percent approval required, with 56 percent approval. The main difference is that the latest proposal is not a stand-alone project. The estimated cost for the same plan is now $6.7 million, compared to the $7.9 it would have cost in 2001. The reason for the $1.2 million cut is many of the expenses related to the stand-alone proposal in 2001 will be taken care of as part of the overall high school renovation project.

The current stadium is long overdue for an upgrade, according to Stone.

“When this school was built 29 years ago, the stadium was supposed to move from its present location to the campus,” he said. “Actually it’s usefulness was overdue 29 years ago, so we’ve just tacked on another 29 years to the present problem.”

Students who play at Memorial Stadium seem to have come to a consensus about certain trouble spots and feel there is a need for change.

“I actually think the field’s fine, but my sophomore year I got hurt, I didn’t play and so after I knew I wasn’t coming back I sat in the stands and the stands suck,” said junior class football player John Lobbestael. “They’re wood bleachers and a lot of them are splintering up.”

Junior Nate Metcalf agrees with his teammate.

“They’re old, they’re not very comfortable and they feel like they’re about ready to fall apart,” he said.

The field itself is another issue. With drainage problems, the first splash of rain and the field’s doomed for the season.

“The first time we get a serious rain downpour it’s going to be pretty mushy for the rest of the time,” Stone said. “As the years go by the flatness is changing and when you look out there it looks like rolling hills because of the drainage problems.”

Another common complaint by Oak Harbor athletes focuses on the size and quality of the locker rooms.

“Our locker rooms are pretty much little cement squares,” junior soccer player Kaylea Kingma said. “Compared to all the other schools it’s not good.”

State playoff game moved

This year’s Oak Harbor High School football team made its first appearance to the state playoffs in 20 years. Upon becoming WesCo North co-champions and advancing to the state tournament, the Wildcats were supposed to have a home field advantage in the first round. Unable to meet Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association standards, Memorial Stadium did not qualify for a state playoff game. Instead the Wildcats had to travel to Goddard Stadium near Everett for their first round state game against Mountain View of Vancouver.

“I think we deserved to play at our home field but we couldn’t because of our stadium,” Metcalf said. “It was just a bummer.”

There were a variety of reasons for the denial of the first round state game in Oak Harbor. Among those were field quality and comfort level for fans.

“When they get in the post season they want to take the field conditions away and level the playing field,” Stone said. “They also want their fans to have a good experience.”

Two years ago the girls soccer team had the same problem. They were seeded number one in their division, but had to play their “home” playoff game at the field of the number two seed, Curtis High School in Tacoma.

Memorial Stadium’s restroom and concessions areas are also considered substandard, and facilities do not meet disability standards.

Track provides “bad experience”

Along with the noted problems of Memorial Stadium there is also the issue of the high school track.

“It’s such a poor facility and it’s such a bad experience for the teams that come up here,” Stone said. “Sometimes schools don’t even bring their full teams up here.”

Built in 1974, the track used to be considered state of the art. The high school track along with the North Whidbey Middle School track were the only artificial surfaced tracks north of Seattle besides Marysville and Bellingham.

“When I ran on the surface from 1975 to 1978 it was the best track outside of Husky Stadium and better than the surface used for the state meets in ‘77 and ‘78,” Oak Harbor track coach Seth Hodges said. “Today, for the area schools that host track and field meets, the Oak Harbor track is the worst in all of District I (Whatcom, Island, San Juan, and north King counties).”

With the wear and tear over the years asphalt is now protruding through the track’s surface in several areas. As a result Hodges tries to limit the amount of time his athletes run on the track.

“Due to the thin surface we try to keep our athletes off the track as much as possible as little bounce or cushion remains,” Hodges said. “I have personally taken distance runners to the Coupeville track over the last four years to run longer.”

Oak Harbor is only holding two home track meets this season and Hodges doesn’t see the number of meets improving over the coming years without a new surface to run on.

“It is a distinct possibility that Oak Harbor will not host another track and field meet until we have a new facility,” Hodges said.

Along with the new sports complex there is also expected to be an addition of playing and practice fields. Two fields for football and soccer are in the plans along with increasing the number of baseball fields from one to two.

“We’re one of the few schools in the state that have only one baseball field,” Stone said.

New tennis courts are also in the works. School officials would like to increase the number of courts from six to eight.

Other stadium uses seen

Aside from student athlete use, the new facility would be used for physical eduction purposes and will be open to the public during non-school hours. The real grass surface Memorial Stadium can only be used a limited number of times throughout the school year, but with artificial turf if could be used a limitless amount. Youth programs and other community groups would be allowed to hold events and games there.

“With the artificial surface you could use it six or seven days a week,” Stone said.

Stone is excited about the possibilities of what could be if the levy passes.

“If that passes that would probably be the most significant happening as far as athletics for my tenure, that’s for sure,” said Stone, who has spent nearly 30 years with the school district.

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