There are still plenty of questions about what new Rottle Field grandstands might be like and when they would be ready for a home game, but about 50 Montesano High School staffers, parents and neighbors gathered Wednesday night to begin to sound out some of the answers.
A spectacular fire destroyed the 1940s-era wooden grandstands and damaged part of the synthetic track surrounding the football field. The football team, which will play in the state championship game on Saturday, was displaced from its field, but did play the homecoming game there, with temporary bleachers.
“I appreciate the fact they invited us in at this point, because we’ve just been so curious,” said Monica Ewing, a Monte mom and booster.
“Lack of information breeds misinformation,” added Paul Bialkowsky, president of the Bulldog Boosters.
There wasn’t much firm information to give, Superintendent Dan Winter said. There are still issues to be worked out with the district’s insurance as far as an exact dollar figure, but the architects have estimated roughly $2 million as the replacement cost for the old grandstands.
“I’m really pleased with the turnout,” Winter said. ‘The whole point was to get some input from the community.”
Chris Lilley and Kris Stamon from McGranahan Architects of Tacoma were on hand to answer questions and explain some of the options available. Lilley said part of the difficulty is the rarity of wooden grandstands like those that burned — they’ve essentially had to design a replacement structure in order to get a sense of the replacement cost.
The district has the option of building that equivalent replacement structure, which would have some built-in improvements because of building code changes during the more than 70 years since the last stands went up. It could also decide to build a cheaper structure, like the steel and aluminum stands more common at high schools today, and put the extra money to other uses. Or it could build a more costly structure with more features but pay the difference.
There’s a surprising number of choices to be made for a structure that seems so simple. Stamon and Lilley went through many elements and got feedback through informal polls as they went.
The old grandstands were made from high-quality wood.
“It was a unique grandstand, because it was all wood and there’s not a lot of those. It had a unique character,” Stamon said. A Monte grad himself, Stamon was also a member of the 1994 football team that last won the state title.
To re-do a wood structure would make recapturing that character much more straightforward, but it can be expensive to maintain over time, and would require a sprinkler system. And there’s always the risk of another fire.
If the new stands were steel, the district would save about 15 percent, Lilley estimated. They also have the advantage of durability and easy maintenance. They’re also loud and cold to sit on. A pre-engineered steel structure from a company that specializes in grandstands would take comparatively little time to construct, but takes a long time to deliver. The district could also do a custom steel structure incorporating wood elements.
Concrete would also be cold, but durable with minimal maintenance. Crowds moving over them would make minimal noise, and the risers themselves could also serve as a ceiling for storage or concession areas underneath. Lilley said that savings wouldn’t cover the added expense, which would be at least another 25 percent more than wood.
The crowd was nearly evenly split between wood and concrete for the structure, slightly in favor of wood.
Overwhelmingly, those at Wednesday’s meeting favored sitting on the bare risers rather than adding benches. It was less clear how the half who favored a concrete structure felt about sitting on the concrete rather than wood.
Benches could be made from aluminum or wood, Lilley said. Plastic benches likely wouldn’t be durable enough to last in the weather on the Harbor.
New grandstands and some repair to the track is the minimum insurance would pay for. But as long as big changes are coming, it’s a conversation-starter for other upgrades that have been considered before.
“Its not something we’re proposing or something the school district is proposing, but something we’ve heard from the community might be of interest,” Lilley said.
The idea of a synthetic turf field has been pitched before, but the last bond on the ballot to pay for it narrowly failed. Several people asked about the revenue opportunities it might open for the district.
“We already host district basketball tournaments and that’s been a boon for the school,” one woman said.
About three-quarters of those at the meeting favored expanding the grandstands, possibly digging out the hillside behind the stands to expand facilities and storage options. About the same number favored adding synthetic turf, replacing the track and improving the lighting.
“You think of a new grandstand next to a crappy field — it’s just wrong,” Ewing said.
Lilley estimated those improvements would add about $3.5 million to the project’s price tag. It would likely require the district to pass a new bond, which most of those who favored the extra costs were willing to accept, although fewer thought it would have enough support to pass.
Winter said he was “cautiously optimistic” about a bond’s support, although it would be a crunch to have it submitted in time. If the expansions are incorporated, the bond would have to be submitted by the end of December for the February ballot.
Bialkowsky said boosters have already raised some money toward artificial turf, and have donation commitments totaling roughly $100,000 already. That would help out with grants to fund the rest.
“The bond would be nice, if the community could do it, but it may be all private money,” he said.
Delivering a new grandstand alone by next season’s football opener will be a big job, but Lilley said he’s confident it can be done.
“It’s going to be a really tight schedule but you could achieve it by next fall,” he said.
Virtually everyone at the meeting agreed it was critically important to have the new grandstands ready to go for the first home game, but most said they might be open to a small delay if it meant a higher-quality structure or significant cost savings.
One attendee noted people might feel differently about a delay after the result of Saturday’s state title game.
“We may be raising a flag at that (opening) game. We’re certainly going to be honoring our team,” he said.
“If we don’t do anything else, we’ve at least demonstrated to you how much we have to figure out. It’s very difficult to build even a structure as simple as this in time for football season,” Lilley said.
Those who have input or questions about the project can contact Winter at (360) 249-3942 or email@example.com.