By JOHN HONEY
I would like to respond to Mr. Zaitz’s editorial “Even the Playing Field” in the May 2 Keizertimes.
First I would like to clarify and correct some of the information presented and then share why this project is an excellent investment of time, energy and, yes, finances, for our entire community.
First of all, the projected cost cited by Mr. Zaitz of $2 million is the anticipated fair market cost of such a facility. Our actual costs will be about half of that figure. Early estimates have the project coming in on budget at about $500,000 in cash with an additional $500,000 in material, labor and skills, donated by area construction and field development professionals (in-kind donations). Those numbers will change depending on the type of product selected by the committee and the actual amount of donated labor and materials. Absolutely no district, city or state funds will be used for this project as it will be spearheaded by the McNary Athletic Booster Club, a non-profit organization.
Mr. Zaitz insinuates that funding a multi-purpose field short-changes kids interested in other things—such as theater and music. If that logic holds true, we should never fund improvements or accept donations for any program because there may be students not interested in that particular activity. During the past several years, we have dedicated thousands and thousands of dollars and hundreds of volunteer hours along with four full-time teachers, all designed to improve our fine arts department—in the process, developing one of the most dynamic and forward thinking programs in the state. Was that a waste of funds and times simply because some members of our school, its various programs, our community, feeder school students, club athletes, PE students or local non-profits have no interest in or connection to the fine arts program at our school? Of course it wasn’t. This multipurpose field is the same. It’s a great investment and an improvement that will support a huge portion of our community.
I will readily concede that current use of the McNary grass football field is poor. It is limited to about 20 athletic events and 12 marching band practices per year. We do not allow the JROTC or physical education classes to use the field and we tightly restrict community use during the fall and winter months due to poor irrigation and the need to “protect” the natural sod as much as possible.
The editor suggests that the synthetic turf field “will primarily be used for six or so football games.” We currently use the natural grass field about 40 times per year. A synthetic surface at McNary could host over 2,500 different events, classes or practices per year. Most importantly, it would effectively double the amount of physical education classroom space we have at McNary. As childhood obesity continues to increase, improved PE facilities, in the form of a multi-purpose field, at McNary becomes even more important.
Once a synthetic turf surface is installed, the effective number of activities a multi-purpose field can support is only limited by the number of hours in the day. Marching band could practice on it daily from August thru mid-November (65 practices), PE and JROTC could use the field as classroom space and for drill practice any time weather permitted (90 days x 4 teachers x 6 classes = 2,160 class periods). Baseball and softball teams would be able to practice their infield and outfield on days during the off season, when their grass surfaces are too muddy (50 x 6 teams = 300 practices), community events and local programs such as club lacrosse, Keizer Youth Soccer and football programs would be assured of increased opportunities for use, especially on the weekends (24 Saturdays with multiple events). Community programs such as Red Cross, Iris Festival, Parade of Lights and The United Way would have increased access to a multipurpose field, all weather track, covered bleachers and improved facilities. We would also be able to host more of our feeder school events such as football, track and field, and jog-a-thons. Anecdotal data shows that the earlier and stronger these high school relationships are established with younger students, the greater the likelihood those same students will experience academic success and reach graduation.
Finally, Mr. Zaitz suggests that two major projects in Keizer (McNary’s multi-purpose field and the Big Toy project) will deplete “the philanthropic wallets” of our citizens and businesses. I have more trust in the Keizer population. Four other area high schools (North Salem, South, Sprague and West) have installed fully donated turf fields in the past several years. My fellow principals have seen no appreciable drop off in donations or support to their schools. To the contrary, the improved school facilities and increased usage have actually led to increased school revenue in the form of facilities rentals, concessions and general visibility. There has also been an increase in enthusiasm around donations to school programs. Additionally, the large amount of in-kind donations for both projects will minimize the true out of pocket or cash expenses that have Mr. Zaitz concerned. In my four years as the McNary principal and through my participation in both Keizer Rotary and the Keizer Chamber of Commerce, I have learned that citizens of our community stand behind important projects and provide support when needed. I, for one, have every confidence that they will do so now and in the coming months.
A conservative estimate demonstrates that nearly 100,000 sets of Keizer feet could land on the surface of McNary’s new multi-purpose field each year. The average life expectancy of that field will be 10 years. That’s a million kids and adults, ranging in age from 5 to 75 using a state-of-the-art facility right in their own backyard. As a consumer and community member, I can happily support a year-round, fun, social, lifelong activity or educational opportunity that only costs a dollar per use. Keizer community members have expressed support for this project and the editor of the Keizertimes should as well.
(John Honey is principal of McNary High School.)