Rotary favors stand-alone stadium bond

As the Oak Harbor Noon Rotary continues with its efforts to raise $1 million to help pay for construction of a new school district athletic stadium, talks continue on the best way to run a bond election.

The Rotary Club wants to see the stadium presented to voters as a single issue, rather than in conjunction with a high school remodeling project.

Members hope in November 2005, voters will decide on a $4.4 million bond that would pay for a new grandstand and athletic field, and renovations to existing fields at the high school.

In addition to a new athletic complex, the school district would find new uses for Memorial Stadium and the former site of North Whidbey Middle School.

Rotary member Lyle Bull, a retired Navy admiral, said that he wants the stadium presented as a stand-alone issue because he believes there’s community support for such a measure and it’s a facility that hasn’t seen any significant upgrades in decades.

“The sports complex has been stagnant for 45 years,” Bull said during a special meeting between the Oak Harbor School Board and the Rotary Sports Facility Committee Tuesday evening.

The school district had to condemn the Memorial Stadium bleachers last year and eventually tore them down. Although temporary bleachers were put in place, the playing field’s condition doesn’t allow the football team to host playoff games. “Home” playoff games had to be played away the last two season.

Rotary Stadium Committee officials said that if the stadium bond passes, it could provide a benchmark for success that could benefit the school district when it runs a bond election to fund renovation of the high school.

“We’re confident that a win will bring another win,” said committee member Jill Johnson.

They also said a new facility would help create a sense of community pride.

While everyone at the meeting agreed a new athletic facility is needed, board members still had some reservations on when the bond should be put on the ballot.

Board member Kathy Jones said she would like to see additional organized support for the bond before it goes to voters, and she pointed out that there are other voter-driven funding resolutions that need to be passed next year, including the $1.5 million maintenance and operation levy.

Jones said that if the levy isn’t renewed, the school district would have to lay off teachers and the hot lunch program would be threatened.

Another board member was concerned about the consequences of putting the athletic facility up to a vote before a high school renovation.

“I have a real concern that putting the stadium first can cause a backlash,” said board member Kathy Chalfant.

She added that the school district conducted a survey to find out why voters didn’t support the last bond. That survey showed that 42 percent of the respondents voted no because of the stadium.

But board member Dave McCool said the survey relied on old data and that people’s perceptions may have changed.

Rotary’s Johnson said the fund-raising effort, especially if large portion of the contributions are made up of small donations from families, could be an indicator of how much community support there is for the bond.

If the contributions show such support, Chalfant said she would ultimately support the running of a bond issue next year.

Should voters approve the stadium bond in November of 2005, it would cost between 10 cents and 15 cents per $1,000 assessed value on a home.

However, voters are going to see a 30-cent reduction in the school bond rate in 2006, according to Superintendent Rick Schulte, who said that reduction was programmed into the bond voters approved in 1996.

He noted that property owners would still see a reduction in their tax rate even if they approve a stadium bond.

If the stadium bond passes, it will take about 20 months for the stadium to be built, according to Gary Goltz, school district construction manager.

That time frame includes a four-to-five month design process and a four-to-five month permitting process that includes an environmental impact statement and a study to see how traffic in the surrounding neighborhood would be affected by the project.

So if the bond is passed in November 2005, a new athletic facility would be complete and ready for play by September 2007, Goltz said.

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