Wednesday, April 27, 2011
The White Salmon Valley School District's board members have run into a buzz-saw of opposition to a concept that could see a 38,000 square foot assisted living center for seniors plopped down on land currently occupied by the Jewett Sports Complex. For many years, the four Little League ball fields there -- on a four-acre parcel owned by the school district -- have been used for a variety of sports activities by kids all across the community.
Our view: The assisted living center is a valuable concept that would be an asset to the community -- but the Jewett Sports Complex's four ball fields simply should not be in consideration as the site.
The ball fields offer too many important benefits to allow them to be lost, and it's not just a matter of moving the fields elsewhere. As citizens pointed out at the April 20 school board meeting, there's much more to it: There is the open green space that would be lost. There is the sense of community and sharing that has gone into the countless hours of volunteer effort to build the ball fields into the gem they are today. There is the handy location adjacent to a vibrant neighborhood and not far from downtown, making it easy for many kids to walk or ride their bikes to the fields.
And on a practical level, those living in the Tohomish/O'Keefe/Center/Orchard streets neighborhood are already expressing alarm that a facility of this size could land in their residential area. No doubt, if it were to go there, traffic levels would take a huge jump, and some of those quiet streets would probably need to be widened.
To their credit, the school board members made clear they would not even consider the assisted living center if it meant eliminating the sports complex. They expressed support for the ball fields, yet wondered if a situation could be developed in which everyone involved could benefit, by moving the fields onto school district land near Columbia High School and improving them in the process with more modern, possibly expanded facilities. They reasoned that perhaps the assisted living center could be built, creating jobs and benefiting seniors; the school district could gain funds; and the ball fields could be upgraded, all at once.
Yet the ball fields represent something members of the community have built, maintained, and enhanced over the years. As a result, there is a strong emotional attachment to the fields. And generations of kids have played there -- having fun, being part of a team, staying in shape, learning about life. You can't put a price tag on that type of thing.
We understand the school district is hurting for funds, and this idea -- leasing the site where the assisted living center would be built -- could provide a significant financial boost.
But pursuing this deal doesn't feel right. As one citizen said, it would be a bit like digging up a graveyard. Some places should be considered sacred.
Given the bonds this community has to those ball fields, it doesn't make sense for the Jewett Sports Complex site to be given consideration as a location for construction of a sprawling assisted living facility.