Who is using Islander Stadium? | District underestimated schools for stadium rental fees

Islander Stadium is used for events such as the All-Island Track Meet. - Reporter file photo
Islander Stadium is used for events such as the All-Island Track Meet.
— image credit: Reporter file photo

When the Mercer Island School District opened the new turf at Islander Stadium four years ago, it estimated that high school teams would need the field only half as often as the Island’s sports programs. But a Parks and Recreation review published earlier this year found that this estimate has turned out to be just the opposite.

According to the review, the high school has used the majority of available field time at the stadium, getting nearly double the amount of access than local clubs.

“Scheduling and use realities are the opposite of what was anticipated; the district’s use of the stadium is scheduled the majority of the time,” the city’s stadium review states.

The report also shows that, in 2007, the high school filled 62 percent of the actual time that Islander Stadium was used, totaling 1,161 hours. Meanwhile, community club sports programs only got 20 percent of the field’s availability, for a total of 701 hours last year. The original 2004 estimate predicted that these clubs would use nearly five times that amount at 3,262 hours. Recent data shows that the high school has continued using the field more than originally expected this year. So far, the school has used 922 hours of the 1,400 total used at the stadium.

During the past two years, the amount of high school usage at Islander Stadium has also doubled since 2005 and 2006. Parks and Recreation Director Pete Mayer said the district’s higher-than-expected use of the stadium has created a challenge to meet the needs of the community’s sports teams. Yet, Mayer also said that his scheduling staff, ongoing field-user group meetings and renewed efforts from the district should improve the situation.

The review also concluded that club sports get the most access to Islander Stadium in the winter months, but significantly less time on the field during the other seasons. According to Merrill Schadt, the city’s facility scheduler, the highest demand for fields from both clubs and schools comes in the spring. The least demand is in the fall.

“Part of [scheduling] is the weather,” she explained, “but it’s also external factors from statewide organizations that decide which season certain sports play. For instance, girls’ [club] soccer plays in the spring.”

While parents, coaches and players may see a vacant field when it seems that it should be constantly booked, Mayer explained that booking the field has been difficult due to a number of factors. The Parks and Rec. review found that Islander Stadium is used only 53 percent of its 3,500 annual hours of availability. In addition to the general reasons for demand — such as more sports being played in the spring — Mayer said that unique characteristics of the Island’s high school stadium impact its usage.

“One, it’s a function of the cost to utilize the fields. There’s the rental fee, the custodial fee — so you see some cost avoidance by the user groups.”

Another constraint on the district, Mayer said, is the cost of paying staff for field security and upkeep. The stadium custodians who unlock and lock the gates, as well as clean up after a game or practice, cannot always make the field ready for another game overnight. Significant costs are also incurred by the district if a custodial staff member is scheduled to work on a holiday; thus, availability may be limited or discouraged on those days.

“In those highly desirable times, they can’t turn the field around quick enough,” Mayer said of the custodians’ limitations. “They aren’t able to have a Friday night football game and a 9 a.m. soccer practice, for example.”

Future changes in how the field is scheduled are ahead. Voters approved the parks levy and upon the opening of the Boys & Girls Club’s PEAK project, which is expected to be constructed next year, a new agreement between the city and district will put the city in control of the stadium’s scheduling and maintenance. However, the effects on the neighborhood will have to be considered in addition to the field’s availability, Mayer said. Schedulers must prevent “the perfect storm,” the Parks director said, by making sure that a theater play, swim meet, soccer tournament and Friday night football game do not all take place during the same weekend. As a result, Mayer said there will be a shift in how the community uses the entire high school campus.

“Right now, the scales are being tipped toward the convenience of [field] users, whether it’s the high school or a club,” Mayer said. In the future, there will be more balance, he added.

“It’s a more global way of scheduling, and as a result we may have to say ‘no’ despite availability,” the Parks director said of the stadium.

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