Going The Rounds: Location should not be factor in determining fate of Elma stadium project

As a sports writer and a sports fan, I’m naturally partial toward most new stadium/arena projects.

I recognize, however, that there are legitimate reasons for some people to oppose them.

Some may believe that stadium bond issues are too expensive for taxpayers on fixed incomes. Others may question the design or concept of the proposed facilities. Still more could argue that they represent misplaced priorities.

What does upset me is when stadium opponents bring extraneous issues into the equation.

Foes of Chris Hansen’s proposed basketball and hockey arena in Seattle, for example, frequently voice the dubious contention that the city already has a viable such facility in KeyArena.

Built (as the Coliseum) for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, KeyArena was antiquated as a pro basketball facility long before the Seattle SuperSonics left town. Its condition, in fact, was a prime reason why Howard Schultz infamously sold the Sonics to Clay Bennett. It would take a massive renovation to bring the arena up to National Basketball Association standards and the most recent changes to the building rendered it totally unsuitable for hockey.

In Elma, where a $8.4 million stadium bond issue is on the Feb. 11 ballot, the joker in the deck is possible opposition to the facility’s location.

The Elma School District has proposed that a multi-purpose stadium, with a synthetic turf field, be built on a 20-acre parcel of land owned by the district near Elma Elementary School and the district offices on the west end of town.

It would replace Davis Field on the high school campus. The ancient Davis Field grandstand, determined to be beyond repair, is scheduled for demolition later this year.

Previous stadium proposals, however, reportedly have been scuttled in part by a faction that wants any new field to be constructed at the high school.

Elma, however, would hardly be breaking new ground by building a stadium off campus.

Aberdeen’s home football field is not located at the high school. Nor is Hoquiam’s, Centralia’s, Capital’s, Black Hills, Mark Morris of Longview’s and countless other Western Washington schools.

For that matter, Elma’s home events in four sports (baseball, softball, cross country and golf) are currently staged off the high school campus.

Playing on campus, of course, would be ideal — all things being equal. They are not equal in Elma.

Davis Field was built in a flood plain, a situation that has created dicey wet-weather field conditions for generations. Building a new stadium with a grass field at the same site would be throwing good money after bad.

Because of the ground water issues, a viable synthetic turf field at the current location would need to be elevated on concrete piers at considerable additional expense.

“It would require extensive engineering and permitting,” Elma School Superintendent Howard King added. “We’re not even sure it could be done.”

Such on-campus construction would also limit the size of the stadium and possibly create some flooding problems in the surrounding neighborhood, according to King. Parking might also be limited — although it should be noted that Elma’s current parking facilities, although far from vast, still rank among the best on the Twin Harbors.

That leaves tradition as about the only reason to build at the high school.

As a traditionalist myself, I’d love to see major-league baseball’s wild-card playoff berths be eliminated and all major-college football bowl games return to New Year’s Day. But tradition should never supplant more important considerations.

About a decade ago, with the Weatherwax Building having been destroyed by fire in 2002 and other high school buildings experiencing evident deterioration, the Aberdeen School Board put up a bond issue for the construction of a new high school.

The eventual two ballot measures were opposed (the first time successfully, the second time unsuccessfully) by a citizens group called the Friends of the Weatherwax, which wanted to rebuild on the footprint of the old high school campus with only minor tweaks to the existing facilities.

Although other considerations were expressed, the group’s underlying message was that tradition took precedence over a quality educational experience for future generations. Replace “quality educational experience” with “quality athletic experience” and the arguments by opponents of a non-campus stadium in Elma sound familiar.

Most observers agree that the current Aberdeen High School, opened in 2007, represents a vast improvement over its predecessor. The potential also exists for a truly first-class high school facility in Elma.

The seating capacity for a stadium near the elementary school would be greatly expanded and the synthetic turf field — the only one between Aberdeen and Olympia — would make the stadium a popular venue for postseason football and soccer games. Elma district officials have also floated the possibility of creating a multi-sports complex, with baseball and softball fields, at the new site.

To my mind, this seems like a pretty good deal for East County athletes and fans. Others may disagree. My only hope is that the proposed project be decided on its merits, not on its location.

Rick Anderson: randerson@thedailyworld.com and (360) 537-3926.


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