Buckaroo athletes could have a new sports venue to call home someday soon. Just not too soon.
“Right now we’re just in the dream phases of it,” said Mark Christensen, the head of a committee of Pendleton High School coaches and booster club members captaining the charge to build a multi-purpose sports stadium. The stadium would be equipped with artificial field-turf and a track to allow Buckaroo teams from several sports to use the facility.
“We need something more,” Christensen said. “Something that will give us some space. Our dream is to put a stadium up with an all-weather surface. You can turn the lights on and play for as long as you can and the next day it will still look the same — great.”
The project’s “dream phase” could more appropriately be labeled a planning phase. The committee settled on the lot behind the high school mostly out of necessity. There aren’t many open areas in a town so hilly, Christensen said. Squeezing a full-sized field, track and bleachers into the area allotted between the high school and West Hills School on the ridge above will require some fine attention to detail. Next, parking will become an issue. The amount of parking spaces at the high school may fall short of the need.
BBT Architecture, a Bend-based company, has offered to draw up plans for the field construction and is in the midst of calculating a price estimate for the project. The firm has traveled to the site, taking measurements to ready a concept drawing. The estimates and planning papers are free for the school and BBT will bid on the job when all the information is gathered. A separate company will handle the installation of bleachers, which will border the north sideline. Spatial issues allow room for seating on just the one side.
The final dollar amount is yet unknown, Christensen said, and may remain that way through the holidays. Christensen wagered a guess that the total will land somewhere between $2 million and $3 million.
A good deal of that money will come from grants, he said. Christensen is investigating several agencies which provide funds for athletic projects for high schools. The rest of the money will have to come from private donors and fundraising as little, if any, money is available from the school district.
“There are places out there that have money,” Christensen said. “It’s just about finding where we can get that.”
The Pendleton football team has played its home games at Round-Up Stadium for about 60 years. The arena is an amazing spectacle, but not built for high school football, said Christensen, who also serves as Pendleton track and field head coach. The field is off limits prior to the rodeo in the second week in September, which leaves the football team without a home in the early season. The grass is usually well-worn and chewed after the festivities as well, he added.
The issues have lingered for decades and discussions for a new Bucks’ sports stadium creep up every few years. Christensen remembers hearing the buzz when he first came on with the school a quarter century ago. So what kept talk from taking root?
“It’s hard to say,” Christensen said. But after years as an assistant football coach — he resigned prior to this season — someone finally has the time to head the campaign.
The talks are different this time around, said Pendleton athletic director and football coach Mitch Sanders. He said the pipe dream is on course to become a reality because the current conversations have something the others never did.
“I think there’s a really good committee coming together,” Sanders said of the streamlined planning sessions within the school. “There’s going to be a lot of momentum for (the stadium) moving forward.”
And the stadium committee has the full support of the Round-Up board of directors. President Dennis Hunt said the Round-Up loves having the football team inside the arena, but he understands their needs. The rodeo arena will host football games for as long as it is needed in the interim.
“If there’s a playoff game or something and they feel they’ll need room for a couple more thousand people, that stadium will be available for them,” Hunt said. “That’s a given.”
The board of directors no longer charges the high school a fee for using the stadium like in years past. The school and team are only responsible for clean-up duties and a $2,500 deposit for use.
But the benefits of a new Pendleton sports facility extend beyond football. The Pendleton soccer teams are also searching for a more stable home environment. The teams play most of their home games near Blue Mountain Community College. That field occupies a parcel of mostly flat land in a crevasse behind the college and is bordered on two sides by marshes and cattails. Field conditions in “the pit” tend to get unreasonably mushy with any precipitation, said Rocky Dillenburg, Pendleton girls’ soccer coach.
“That’s one of the things that’s been kind of a disadvantage for soccer, I believe,” said Dillenburg, also a member of the stadium planning committee. “Because we don’t have a real home field, we’re kind of that stepsister out there. I don’t think we get the recognition or the thought that we could get if we had our own field. We could probably have better attendance and better support.”
The benefits would also trickle down to youth and community soccer, Dillenburg added. The stadium could host youth games and become a community showpiece, a town gem.
The soccer team’s possible new pitch is a preemptive move as Blue Mountain considers its own sporting venue shakeup. The location near the college — currently reserved for soccer games — is prime for the school’s rodeo team to use for their own mini-arena, BMCC athletic director Brett Bryan said.
“All of us at Blue Mountain would love to see that happen because it would give us opportunity to host other events,” said Bryan, whose rodeo team competes out of Hermiston. “Still, if that were to happen, we’re at best several years away.”
As is the Pendleton High stadium, Mark Christensen said, but the committee is bringing it closer than ever before.