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Home » Archives » July 2005 » Letter to The Editor & Survey Questions on SJI Ball Fields

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07/11/2005: "Letter to The Editor & Survey Questions on SJI Ball Fields"

By Frank Penwell

My first involvement with the ball field issue was to go to the June meeting. At that meeting I said, "The athletic fields are being supported at the grass roots level. It is something that would not be possible if it were not for thousands of dollars of volunteer money and labor being offered to make it happen. Since the district is currently in such a financial bind, this is an opportunity the district cannot afford to pass up." I listened to the community have its discussion about the ball field needs and I also heard a willingness of the neighbors to let the stockpiling of materials begin. I believe all supporters of the fields left the meeting feeling the Board supported the community need for a field, and that the neighbors agreed to let material stockpiling begin. However, that turned out not to be the case. Lee Sturdivant led a group into the next School Board meeting. It was a very emotional and intense meeting with no supporters of the ballfield in attendance. An individual who was there on another issue said to me, "I would not want to be a Board member and have to take the abuse they do from groups like that" (referring to the group led by Lee Strudivant). What troubles me most is the fact that Lee and her group misled the proponents at the June meeting into believing they would not oppose the hauling of fill. In fact, Lee Strurdivant wrote a letter to the Town of Friday Harbor stating, "Do we need to get an attorney on this?" Mike Bertrand, of the Town of F. H., responded by saying that the school has a legal right to use the roads. He also wrote, "I am surprised that you are opposed to going ahead with the clearing and grading permit since at the public meeting two weeks back you stood up and stated that you would not oppose the hauling of material from the gravel pit to this site"

While I am troubled by the lack of candor, I do not think it is on purpose. I think it is more a case of selective hearing and wishful thinking. How we solve our differences are what is important. I am interested in helping find what is fair and to help the community work toward building a consensus in a timely manner. The taxpayers should not lose thousands of dollars in donated materials and labor to benefit the few while denying the majority. This issue is not rocket science. I am collecting information in the form of a survey. Please have everyone you know fill it out and send it in. I will share the results with the School Board. The Board needs to pass the next levy. They cannot afford to displease the majority of voters, or to be fiscally irresponsible by letting large sums of grass roots donations fall by the wayside.

In an effort to help the community build a consensus, I am asking for volunteers from both groups to join in a committee to work on forming a consensus and maybe finding a way to limit the impacts this growth will have on the ballfield neighborhood. The committee members must be willing to be open, honest, tolerant and willing to move ahead in a timely manner. We will share all information with the School Board. I would like to personally ask David Eden to be the chair of this committee. He has been a School Board member and he has had experience with tough, emotional discussions. If you can help by being on this committee, please phone me at 378-6473. I would like to schedule the first meeting on July 14th.
For those of you who have no knowledge of what has or is going on regarding the ball fields, I have reviewed a lot of documents on this issue and below are some of the historical facts I have found:

• 1997 the voters of San Juan passed an 11.5 million dollar capital improvement bond to modernize the schools and to purchase 30 acres for future development of a high school and athletic fields.
• In 2000 Hart Pacific Engineering provided preliminary engineering services for development of the fields. A projected field opening date was to be in 2002 or 2003.
• In 2001 the District became a partner in the gravel pit project and put the planned fields on hold.
• In 2003 the Gravel pit levy failed.
• In 2004 Don Galt, President, Friday Harbor Athletic Association, asked the District to let volunteer time and money finish the promised athletic fields. The Board emphasized they had no money to devote to the project, and they had no immediate need for additional fields. Some of these comments were met with comments and confusion from the public about the District's past comments and commitments to co curricular activities, and how our fields compared to other districts fields, as well as how academics are affected by co curricular activities.
• A coalition of community groups (Island Rec, the Town of Friday Harbor, Little League, Lacrosse, San Juan Soccer, Tiger Football, and a multitude of adult users of softball, soccer, ultimate frizbee, etc), helped the District come to a consensus regarding field specifications for the user groups.
• Prior to the June 16th Board meeting for public input, a letter was sent to the School Board from Steve Enoch and Cal Johnson. It stated that they had more questions than answers regarding what they read as statements attributed to them by Lee Sturdivant. They denied the factual basis of Lee Sturdivant's comments, and the School Board records support Steve's and Cal's recollection about the history of the property and roads.
• On June 16th the Board held a community meeting to get input from the public. The Board wanted answers to two questions: 1.) How much does the community want additional athletic fields? This comment was clearly and quickly answered when after testimony from many coaches, parents, students and users of the current fields testified. The audience was then asked if anyone felt we did not want or need the fields. No one stood up to dispute the need and desire to have fields. 2.) How much can we resolve the issues about access? At the start of this question the District stated, "…we simply cannot afford to become embroiled in neighborhood controversies about the development of athletic fields." The translation to this is that they have a Bond levy that needs to pass and they want all the votes they can get. However, if the School Board does not act in the affirmative to the majority of citizens, or it does not recognize the importance of these fields to the quality of our educational and co curricular programs, then it will surely alienate and dishearten many citizens. It probably will lead to apathy and a very low voter turn out, or outright rejection of the next levy. It may also lead to replacement of several Board members at the next election. I am also a bit confused as to why the Board was even asking the second question about access. The District paid for an access study prior to purchase of the property, and the road plan has been on the Town of Friday Harbor plans since the 70s. The question should have been: How can we be good neighbors and help limit the impact on the residents?
• Testimony and comments at the meeting included:
From Proponents: * Statements of the urgency of getting the donated materials for the fields, as the materials would not be available in a few months. * Many users of the current fields commented on the conditions of our fields and how they compared to other schools fields. * Many coaches commented about difficulties of scheduling and use of the fields. * Soccer parents commented about lack of fields and no available times, and no times before 7:00pm. * A student asked why our fields were so substandard to other school's fields. * The neighborhood opponents are putting their personal interests above community interests. * Several people pleaded with the opponents to work with the proponents by giving suggestions of how to make things work. * The opponents issues will be addressed at a CUP hearing, and that is where their testimony should be heard and considered. * All costs for the field construction and maintenance will be by private donations and billboard advertising, like at the Catholic Church site. * It will increase local property values.
From Opponents: * The roads cannot support the traffic. * I can't even imagine how trucks or buses can come down the roads. * It is dangerous because of how people speed and drive on the roads. * There is a drainage issue. * The school district cannot afford the costs of the fields or maintenance of the fields. * Lee Sturdivant stated that she was lied to by Steve Enoch. (Comments from the Board stated there was no record of Steve making promises that she has attributed to him, and Steve Enoch stated he had no reason to make such a comment.) * The neighborhood simply cannot support the traffic. * Find another access into the site, our street access is not an option. * It will lower our property values. How will they deal with the lighting of the fields?

• The School Board then held a Board meeting in early July, wherein no proponents showed up and a bunch of opponents to the Ball fields appeared and gave very emotional input.
• On 7/10/05, I heard about how the emotional plea swayed the Board on its decision not to move forward with the hauling of materials. I feel the actions of the Board revolved around trying not to offend anyone, because of political worry about the next levy. From what I hear now, I feel the upcoming levy will fail unless a consensus is reached, or the majority get what they want. With that I am offering my services to help gather together the opposing groups. It is important that everyone becomes educated on the issue and rights each group has, and to come to a resolution in a timely manner that will not endanger the loss of the donated labor and materials. If you are a proponent or opponent and want to be heard, please volunteer to be on our committee. Call 378-6473.

Sincerely, Frank Penwell : )


Name: Phone:
Address: Age:
Please circle Yes or No for each opinion.
Count my opinion, but keep my identity private and confidential Yes No
It is OK to share my identity and my opinions. Yes No
I vote at most elections. Yes No
I favor putting in the Ballfield materials on site right away. Yes No
I favor holding back on placing the ballfield material on site. Yes No
I am for putting in a ballfield. Yes No
I am against putting in a ballfield. Yes No

I want to have progress reports emailed to me at:

Please return this survey to: Frank Penwell, 545 Rose Court, F. H.
Phone: 378-6473 or email:

Make any comments or suggestions below:

Tom Bauschke
John Evans
Mary Kalbert
Ron Keeshan
Gordy Petersen
Janice Peterson
Bruce Sallan
Terra Tamai
Amy Wynn
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