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Inspection routine goes back years

The structural integrity of Oak Harbor’s Memorial Stadium has been suspect for at least 15 years, Oak Harbor School District officials say.

However, most concerns have centered on the stadium’s aging wooden bleachers. Planks have been replaced as needed.

In the meantime, the district has attempted five different bond levies in hopes of replacing or refurbishing the stadium. None passed.

To help keep an eye out for problems, each year district officials invited an inspector from the Washington Schools Risk Management Pool —- the district’s insurance pool —- to give the bleachers a once-over.

Rotting and splintering wooden planks were a consistent problem. However, the risk pool representative is not an engineer and could not conduct a thorough survey that looked at overall safety.

To do that, the district needed to hire a structural engineer.

In August the school district hired a pair of engineers out of Langley and Coupeville. They were to look at the condition of the bleachers and thoroughly inspect how well the stadium’s steel skeleton was holding up after 50 years of use.

That question still remains unanswered, said Superintendent Rick Schulte. The engineers’ determination that the stadium posed an “imminent hazard,” put the project on hold, as Schulte scrambled to figure out what to do next.

A full engineering report is due at the end of this month.

Schulte said he did not expect the engineers to find such a pressing problem right before the start of the football season.

Some members of the community, however, were suspicious of the timing of the report. They thought the school district appeared to be punishing the community for the failure of the $7.9 million bond levy.

Some also wondered why the district went to voters with a bond levy before a thorough engineering study was conducted.

School board member Dave McCool, who joined the board in June, asked Schulte why the district waited until the start of fall sports to have an engineer review the facility.

“It appears to the public that the timing was just really poor,” McCool said.

McCool suggested any future studies of the district’s sports fields be conducted during the summer months.

“Point well taken,” Schulte said.

Schulte said he wanted engineers to conduct a thorough survey of Memorial Stadium this year because a committee had formed to look into the stadium’s future.

“The feeling was I needed the information for the committee,” Schulte said.

Engineers were expected to assess the stadium further on Tuesday.

Their opinion on the stability of the stadium and the ability to possibly brace it for future games this fall will have a direct impact on whether Oak Harbor Wildcats play any football games there this season.

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