Opinion

Island Forum | MIHS stadium access is an important community asset

For over a dozen years, I have enjoyed life in our unique community. Along with fellow residents, I have enjoyed open access to athletic facilities and fields when they are not used by students or teams. Now we hear that the school district (MISD) would like to lock the high school stadium and prevent casual use of the turf — an abrupt and surprising change in policy affecting all of us, young and old.

The MISD would increase administrative staff burdens and burden citizens by requiring them to apply for key cards (for a fee) to access the stadium — but only for track jogging. This would be bad policy with little or no demonstrated need. It would be contrary to the reasonable expectations of Mercer Islanders who enjoy the ability to visit the synthetic turf fields that they have paid for. 

The stadium field is one of the few open space areas for residents to use at the center of the Island. Its primary purpose is for students, but during the many times of non-use, citizens of all ages have been able to run or play there without being monitored by key cards. It is this way with the new synthetic fields at Islander Middle School and several Seattle schools. It has been this way at our stadium for years, with positive results. Open access has enriched our community enormously, permitting individuals, children, families and small groups of youngsters or adults to enjoy relatively brief non-institutional play exercise on the field, with virtually no wear to the surfaces. This informal use takes place after work, during lunch hours, during family reunions, holidays and days off from school. The value of the stadium field asset is in its use by all citizens. The ability to informally and casually use the new field without key cards is a fact of community life, not just here on Mercer Island, but in all communities. It makes lives healthier and happier. 

Around 2003, when the synthetic turf field was installed, our city paid $500,000, and our MISD paid the rest — all our tax dollars. They made a 2003 interlocal agreement for the purpose of “expanding and enhancing [the stadium’s] use for both the schools and the overall community. ... It is a city and district objective to increase general community access to and use of the stadium, and it is intended to be used jointly for school and community recreation purposes for the benefit of district students ... and the city at large. ... The stadium will remain unlocked at all times.” 

The field was replaced in August with $455,000 of our MISD money. A field warranty that the city paid for in 2003 saved MISD about $119,000 during the recent replacement. Yet, MISD is apparently using this occasion to tell the City Council that it is changing policy on open access: “The stadium will be locked at all times.” 

MISD says it wants to protect the asset and protect school children, and to know who enters the empty stadium area (Big Brother?) on school play time. Yet, there is no basis in fact that key carding will make the asset last longer or address any actual problems.   

There is virtually no downside to MISD leaving the field unlocked and usable during unscheduled times — just as it has always been. 

Jay Na is a Mercer Island businessman and resident, with children in Mercer Island schools. Several dozen residents have reviewed and endorsed this article.

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