HERMISTON -- There is a long list of improvements planned for Kennison Field at Hermiston High School.
There's FieldTurf to reduce the risk of injury and concussions. An upgraded press box. Improved landscaping and ticket booths. A new concessions building.
The project is part of the school district's vision to not only establish a high-class facility for students but also a venue for state-level competitions within the Oregon School Athletics Association.
"What we really hope to do is create a gem of high school athletics in Eastern Oregon," said Hermiston Superintendent Wade Smith.
The Kennison Field wish list runs $4 million -- about $700,000 beyond the basic level of renovations needed, and there's no guarantee OSAA officials arrange for it to hold football playoffs or other competitions when it's completed.
But the community has rallied to support the project, raising $366,000 since Sept. 1 to close the $700,000 funding gap for the project. That includes $100,000 pledged Wednesday by Good Shepherd Community Health Foundation.
Proponents said there are no guarantees, but the project is still expected to generate tens of thousands of dollars for the local economy as other regional school districts and schools looked to host events there and take advantage of a facility closer to home.
Hector Cruz, director of sports development for the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau, said the Tri-City area received hundreds of thousands of dollars from regional and state-level track and field events this past spring in Richland and Pasco.
"We have an opportunity here to do not only what's in the best interest our high school students, but our community," said Dave Drotzmann, past president of the Hermiston Sports Boosters Club.
Athletic facilities have existed at the site of Kennison Field since the 1960s. It was named in tribute to Kyle Kennison, a former Hermiston High track coach, after he died more than a decade ago.
Kennison Field hasn't been extensively updated in decades. The bleachers, first installed in the 1960s, do not meet safety standards. The track is in poor shape, with 35 cracks in its surface signaling structural failure.
The district, using state and federal grants for capital projects and some contributions, could have renovated the facility enough to meet Hermiston High's needs, but school board members opted to go further. They want to install an Olympic-quality track system, state-of-the-art announcing system and improved bleachers with handicap access and seating.
While great for the school, those improvements were proposed in part so Kennison Field would meet standards required by OSAA to play host to state-level competitions.
The OSAA requires athletic venues have a minimal standard when it comes to playing surfaces to help reduce the risk of injury, but other aspects are considered include a press box to accommodate OSAA officials and out-of-town media.
Steve Walker, an OSAA spokesman, said the district has been in touch with OSAA officials about the improvements. He said there is no guarantee that OSAA would send state playoff football games or track meets because there is a bidding process.
However, few high schools in Eastern Oregon are capable of staging state events. Bend is the nearest to Hermiston, and that's a five-hour bus trip.
Kennison Field also would be attractive for regional track meets or an early-round football playoffs when another school's grass field isn't suitable because of weather.
"You're going to have everyone and their brother wanting to host their district meet here," Walker said.
That's a major reason why the city of Hermiston embraces the project. District officials said the facility could pump between $50,000 to $100,000 into the local economy when playing host to a weekend sporting event, and Smith said the Hermiston business community has been quite supportive. The district would also generate revenue from those events through rental fees and concessions.
The district wants a variance from the city to build the bleachers higher than typically permitted under local code. The city council hasn't ruled on that, but school and city officials said they are working together to get the project through.
"I think what we're doing with the school district is nothing but good economic development for the community," said Hermiston Mayor Bob Severson.
Drotzmann said the district and boosters' primary goal in the effort is to serve Hermiston students. If that can be done while serving the region, reducing travel for families and helping local business, it's a win-win.
"This is going to be a cornerstone," Drotzmann said.