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Stadium 'team' takes shape

As Oak Harbor Schools Superintendent Rick Schulte outlined the game plan for Wednesday’s stadium meeting, one thing was not on the list: “Repairing Memorial Stadium is not an option.”

Close to 80 people gathered at the school district office to consider options for replacing Memorial Stadium.

Schulte said he will recommend to the school board Monday that the stadium be demolished, based on the final engineers’ report.

As a result of an unexpectedly poor initial report from structural engineers just before school started, the district closed the stadium bleachers. Temporary bleachers are now in place for the current football season, but the district is looking for a permanent solution.

“The stadium is in danger of catastrophic failure,” Schulte said. “One ‘wave’ could take it down.”

The school district received the final report Thursday. The summary concludes that with 60 percent of the bleachers’ support members overstressed, if one failed it could create a “domino effect” resulting in the stadium collapsing.

The survey concluded that rebuilding the stadium would be more costly than building a new one, and it still would not address other issues such as guard rails, fire protection and access.

The first of four consecutive Wednesday “stadium team” meetings focused only on where to build a new stadium, not what it would include or how much it would cost. The goal of the meetings is to come up with three options to present to the school board Nov. 10.

The four locations considered were the present site, Oak Harbor High School, North Whidbey Middle School, and Fort Nugent Park.

After Schulte gave an overview of the situation the participants shared some of their comments on the situation, then broke up into four groups to list the pros and cons of each site. Participants then voted for their favorites by placing red “no” or green “yes” stickers on each choice. Each participant was given two yes and two no votes.

The North Whidbey Middle School option was split with 16 for, 16 against, while Fort Nugent didn’t receive a single yes vote, and 23 no votes.

The Memorial Field choice yielded 20 yeses and 50 nos, while the high school site had 76 yes votes and 12 no votes.

Before the vote, people shared their concerns, ideas and memories.

Schulte read an article about the opening of the stadium that appeared in the local 1947 Farm Bureau News. The article reported nearly 1,000 fans watched from covered bleachers in “War Memorial Field Stadium” as the Coupeville Wolves baseball team beat the Oak Harbor Wildcats.

The stadium was one of the first in the state to feature electric lighting, and cost $25,000. Schulte noted $14,000 was in cash, with the rest coming from the labor of the community.

Dale Jensen, school board member in the early 1950’s, pleaded with the group to honor that history, and to rebuild the stadium on its current site.

“I love that stadium right where it is,” he said.

Jensen said the stadium property was originally donated to use for athletic purposes only, but Schulte said they had done a title search and found the property was deeded for a broader “school district use.”

Barbara Wright, who served on a 1997 committee to investigate options for a new stadium, said their recommendation then was to build it at the high school, and she was sticking with that plan.

“We felt it was where high school kids could use it everyday,” she said. She suggested Memorial Field could be an auxiliary ball field.

Joe Mossolino, who worked with Citizens for Better Schools in the last two failed school bond elections, was still rooting for the high school location as well.

“This is a practical versus an emotional issue,” he said, “but we need to think of it as a sports facility with many uses.”

The Memorial Field site option listed as pros were: good location; historical significance; good traffic flow and access; potential for growth, with removal of school bus barns and high visibility. The cons included: field is in bad shape; no track space; is off campus and where would teams play during construction.

The high school site option listed as pros: ample parking; could be multi-purpose facility; less transportation costs; could hold graduation there; could phase into future high school remodel project; might be able to get matching money as educational facility and the kids want it to be at the high school. Listed as cons were: would limit school expansion; noise, impact on neighborhood; focus on sports (instead of education); runs counter to tradition and could it be built by 2004.

Schulte said the district would like to have a new facility in place, wherever that may be, by the 2004 school year, less than 11 months away. Whether that goal is attainable remains to be seen, but Schulte was optimistic after the “team” meeting Wednesday.

“We had a lot of diverse opinions,” he said. “People were passionate but respectful.”

The meeting next Wednesday will focus on money issues, from cost to financing. Schulte said they will discuss an upper limit, and whether it should be done all at once, or in phases.

The team will look at a variety of financing options, from donations and selling ads, to using available resources or running another bond election.

Stadium Team participants must attend three of the four meetings in order to participate in the final option selection Oct. 29.

Stadium chat online

Can’t make the meetings? Oak Harbor School District has set up an online participation chat room for people to contribute to the stadium discussion. Instructions for participating are on the district Web site, www.ohsd.net.

The district has also added stadium questions to a random phone survey it will be conducting next week.

You can reach News-Times reporter Marcie Miller at mmiller@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611

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