If you haven’t had a chance to drive by our new Wildcat Memorial Stadium recently, you should do it. It is an impressive facility that all of Oak Harbor can be proud of.
In just a few weeks on Sept. 7, our own Oak Harbor Wildcats will take to the field. And we as a community will be celebrating great accomplishments: The grand opening of a new stadium; and the welcoming of our state championship football team and cheerleaders. It will be a memorable moment, one that I predict will be woven into the history and culture of our community for decades to come.
Last year the Wildcat football team fought their way to a state championship despite playing three “home” playoff games out of town due to lack of facilities in Oak Harbor. They’ll never have to leave town for a “home” game again, and finally our community will have an opportunity to show what having a home field advantage is really about.
The idea that the stadium is now being used as political bargaining chip for teacher negotiations is reckless and doesn’t take into account the big picture. Here’s why:
First, no one is happy about cost overruns, but the district has been honest about the situation and the issue has been widely discussed, carefully deliberated, fully reported, and outlined on the school district Web site since last December. It’s never been a secret, and the recent uprising over the costs, weeks before the stadium’s completion, is simply old news turned into new news for political posturing.
Second, the stadium will not cost taxpayers one penny more than the $6.5 million approved, nor will it take any money away from classrooms. The additional funds used for the stadium come from investment earnings and funds traditionally placed in the district’s capital projects budget, which is money designated by the state for big-cost construction items, maintenance, or purchases.
Third, we have one chance to build a stadium we can be proud of. When construction inflation sky-rocketed and the cost of aluminum escalated, the Oak Harbor school board had a choice. They could scale back the project or see it through to ensure the facility met the long term needs of the district. They chose to stand up for the kids, the community, and the local economy and do it right.
From an economic standpoint, this far-sighted decision means Oak Harbor now has a facility that will be marketed for football and soccer tournaments, track meets, and youth sporting events. Each event bringing with it families who need to eat, shop and stay the night.
Already the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce and the school district are working together to market our facilities to other districts in our region, and coordinating with local hotels on packages that will encourage visitors to stay the night and pump more money into our local economy.
Mount Vernon’s stadium, where the Wildcats have staged their “home” playoff games the last two years, is booked solid with high school and club tournaments in the fall and the spring. That facility has no roof, no on-site locker rooms, and no on-site restrooms. Oak Harbor now has all those things, which means we now offer the incentives we needed to make it worthwhile for tournaments to detour off the I-5 corridor.
Fourth, and maybe most important, the stadium has always been about “Building the Pride.” Community pride has an economic return. Families want to live in towns, and send their kids to schools, where pride is evident. For a while there, Oak Harbor was missing that confidence in its own community. But, no longer.
For the past four years, the vision of a stadium and a new high school has brought Oak Harbor together. Local residents donated a half million dollars toward the project, much of it coming through car washes and small donations. The campaign for our stadium, and the subsequent success of our football and cheerleading teams infused our town with the enthusiasm we were missing. We saw what was possible, we went for it, and it happened. We showed our true colors and stood proud.
Let’s keep the big picture in mind. We have a lot of things to be proud of and on Sept. 7, that stadium is clearly one of them.
Jill Johnson is executive director of the Greater Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce.