Going the Rounds: Elma’s recent stadium-measure failure a moral victory of sorts

By Rick Anderson

For the Grays Harbor News Group

The outcome of the recent Elma stadium bond issue can be seen as a moral victory of sorts — but the type that doesn’t show up in the actual win column.

The $5.5 million stadium measure secured a 57 percent approval rate in the final balloting tallied last week. That’s short of the 60 percent super-majority required for the adoption of bond issues. But it also represented a significant improvement over four previous attempts to find a replacement for Davis Field, the longtime venue for Elma High School football and soccer.

Davis Field’s grandstand was condemned in 2014 and demolished shortly thereafter. After a couple of years of alternating home football games between Montesano and Aberdeen, the Eagles have played a conventional home schedule at Davis Field, but with only uncovered temporary bleachers available to spectators.

“I’m encouraged by the fact that a clear majority of our community clearly wants a stadium,” Elma School Superintendent Kevin Acuff said last week.

Acuff is non-committal on the district’s next step. He indicated, however, that the step wouldn’t be taken immediately.

He said that a stadium will be only one of several issues discussed by the district’s Strategic Planning Committee in the coming months.

“You can’t take any issue in isolation,” Acuff emphasized. “It’s all part of what we do as a school district to get better.”

The Elma superintendent wouldn’t hazard a guess as to what steps the district might take to win over an additional three percent of the voters.

“It seems like it might actually hurt us to speculate on what options we might have,” he said.

There’s a very good chance, however, that the projected site for a new stadium will remain on the high school campus.

The four previous unsuccessful measures were criticized in part because it called for the stadium to be constructed off-campus, on property near the transportation co-op adjacent to school district headquarters on the west outskirts of the city.

In the most recent proposal, the 1,200-seat fully covered stadium (complete with artificial turf) would have been built at the site of the current high school track slightly east of Davis Field. District officials said the track site drains better than Davis Field, which was built in a flood plain.

In any event, the latest measure gained far more support than any previous attempt. Two of the previous bond issues failed to gain even a simple majority, while the others topped out at about 52 percent.

The inclusion of a turf field might have been a sticking point to some voters.

Acuff, however, notes that the estimated $1.1 million expenditure for the installation of turf doesn’t represent a huge increase over the projected $400,000 for the maintenance of a grass field. In addition, a contract with Verizon to lease a cell tower on the north side of the field includes provisions for the telecommunications company to finance the maintenance and replacement of a turf field.

“The number one advantage (of turf) that far outweighs anything else is repeated usage of the field,” Acuff maintained. “(Now) we really limit the use of the field, more in the spring than in the fall.”

As for the possibility of entering into a long-term agreement with Montesano to share Monte’s Rottle Field for football, Acuff said, “It has not even been discussed.”

The late Elma School Board member and sports booster Larry Bridenback once estimated that 30 percent of the district’s constituency would vote against any stadium bond issue — viewing it as a non-essential luxury.

If true, it wouldn’t be an aberration. Acuff said he was told in 2015 that only one of the previous 20 attempts throughout the state to pass athletic facility-only bond measures had been approved.

“When you talk to people about (spending) their own money, that’s a tough situation,” said Elma teacher and former high school football coach Jim Hill, who was inducted into the Washington State Football Coaches Hall of Fame last weekend. “I just wish we could look beyond the money, which maybe isn’t as much as people think. I’ll say this: If we don’t invest in our youth, we’re in trouble.”

As for me, I’ve never been a fan of voting rules that thwart the will of the majority.

A candidate in a contested election who gains 57 percent of the vote — or, in the case of the Stevens Elementary School bond issue in Aberdeen, 59.99 percent of the vote — could claim a mandate. In a bond issue, with its super-majority requirement, those are losing numbers.

It’s like requiring the Seattle Seahawks to win every National Football League game by at least 10 points. For those who are curious, the Seahawks would have posted a 1-15 record in 2019 had such a rule been in effect.

Elma stadium supporters can only hope that the voters provide a better record than that in future elections.