Memorial Stadium can’t compare to other facilities

As the Oak Harbor High School soccer players make their way through the season, they have discovered the worst place they have to play is on their own home field at Memorial Stadium.

“It’s kind of embarrassing,” said Jia DiMatteo, a senior playing on the soccer team. “The bathrooms are terrible.”

The locker room, with its concrete floor, has only one urinal and one stall. Soccer team girls frequently shun the locker room and head to the public restroom to use the bathroom.

Several soccer players said the field gets mushy throughout the course of the season and corners of the field are really muddy. Others added that the sound system doesn’t work.

During one rain-soaked game last year, the ball would stop in a puddle instead of bouncing.

“It’s not bad to play on except for the pot holes I guess,” said freshman Sarah Newsome. “All the other schools we’ve been going to have better stadiums.”

Despite its drawbacks, some players sentimentally enjoy competing at Memorial Stadium because of the tradition which dates back to 1947.

DiMatteo said she had hoped to play on the field when she started high school.

Fellow soccer team member Maile McCumber said she grew up watching games at Memorial Stadium and that she wanted to play on the field where her older sister competed.

The Oak Harbor School District is trying to improve its athletic facilities by proposing a $6.5 million bond issue. Voters will decide Nov. 8 whether to approve the measure, which has to pass with a 60 percent supermajority.

If voters approve, the money would fund construction of a new stadium, track and field at Oak Harbor High School. The stadium would be covered and able to accommodate 2,500 home fans and 500 visiting fans. Plans also call for renovation of the practice fields and tennis courts surrounding the high school.

School officials estimate the bond would cost 19 cents per $1,000 assessed property value for the next 15 years. Officials are quick to point out the existing bond rate will drop by 17 cents in 2007, resulting in a two-cent net increase.

The current Memorial Stadium has temporary rented bleachers that were installed after the previous ones were condemned and demolished two years ago. The playing surface isn’t suitable for post-season play. When the varsity football team qualified for post-season play over the past several years, they played their home games at a neutral site.

Bob Smithson, Oak Harbor School District athletic director, said it takes a lot of effort and expense to prepare the field for games each week. He estimated that it takes four workers eight hours to ready the field for a football game and two workers eight hours to prepare it for a soccer game. He said that doesn’t include the time needed to water and the fertilizing needed to maintain the grass.

“It’s such a fragile facility,” Smithson said, adding that its poor condition limits the amount of use each year. He said youth soccer and football programs have asked to use the field, but any extra use could damage the field which could be a detriment for the teams that use the field in the spring.

He said all teams that use the stadium deserve to have the same quality facilities. The new stadium would have artificial turf, making it usable for many more activities while reducing maintenance costs.

Smithson said the new field could accommodate both the youth programs and the school programs. The field would provide a place for physical education classes and for the marching band to practice. He said the new stadium, with its covered bleachers, would also be a better place for a graduation ceremony, not to mention a better place to watch fall soccer and football games.

Overall, he sees a new stadium as an answer to a number of problems, including the time-consuming field preparation. “You turn your lights on and you turn your sound system on and you’r ready to play,” Smithson said.

While there is considerable public support for the $6.5 million bond, there are some who don’t support such a measure.

Oak Harbor resident Scott Hornung, a perennial critic of stadium bond proposals and former school board member, said the school district has its priorities backward. He would rather seen the school run a bond for the renovation of the high school, which is something the district plans to do early next year.

“It just makes sense to do it the other way,” Hornung said. He claimed that the school district would save approximately $300,000 if the high school renovation and the athletic facility construction took place at the same time.

Smithson said presenting the athletic facility to voters first honors a request by the Oak Harbor Noon Rotary. The community group spent months raising approximately $400,000 to help offset stadium construction costs, and says that it is paying the cost of the Nov. 8 stand-alone stadium election.

Hornung, who wrote the opposition statement that is appearing in the Island County Voter’s Pamphlet, also questions the accuracy of tax rate associated with the bond. He said it might be higher than what is advertising and that such an inaccuracy could threaten the passage of future bonds.

Rick Schulte, superintendent of the Oak Harbor School District, said the tax rate is only an estimate, but it’s based on advice from experts. The exact rate isn’t known until the school district sells the bonds, which Schulte expects would happen in January.

He said there are numerous variables which affect the bond sale and the school district has worked with the Bank of America investment division to come up with a rate that the school district could meet or improve on when the bond sale happens.

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