The Hermiston School Board has found itself wedged between a rock and hard place in regards to the 2018 graduation ceremony.
The rock is the terribly undersized school gym, which is no longer suitable to host a graduation for Hermiston’s senior class. That is a widely held opinion — the district has made it clear it’s time to move and a majority of respondents in an online survey said they were “very dissatisfied” with the venue.
The hard place is the lack of consensus about where to go instead. The Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center arena, the most popular venue in the survey, doesn’t have the infrastructure to host such an event in 2018, according to the center’s interim manager Nate Rivera.
The Toyota Center in Kennewick, the district’s preferred venue, was the most polarizing in the survey, with 36 percent strongly in favor and 37 percent strongly opposed. And Kennison Field, the crown jewel of Hermiston athletic facilities, may be viable but isn’t particularly popular with anyone because of its relatively few additional seats and potential damage to the field and track.
While the public survey has made the decision messier, we commend the district for asking the question.
On Monday the board decided to delay its vote until October. As board chair Karen Sherman said, no decision is going to please everyone. But we know it’s more than that: Any decision is going to anger a lot of people.
In the coming month, the board must decide which criteria is most important and communicate that. Arguments have been made based on expense, weather, nostalgia, local economic impact, logistics and even the best interest of the graduates themselves.
If expense or weather are most important, the district must be able to answer why a full $10,000 toward gym prep is added to the cost of the local outdoor venues. A quick survey of graduation days (June 10, for ease of comparison), shows an average high temperature of 80 degrees, .03 inches of rain and winds blowing at about 10 miles per hour. The nastiest June 10 in the past decade was in 2008, with temperatures topping out at 55 degrees, with .14 inches of rain and 16 mph winds. The hottest was in 2015, when the mercury reached 93 degrees in the afternoon. It has only sprinkled four times in the past decade, and surpassed a tenth of an inch just once.
If the district decides to move outdoors, as Pendleton did a few years back, only at its very worst should the weather push graduation back inside. Family and friends brave the Eastern Oregon elements all school year to watch football games, marching band performances, track and field meets and more. Spending $10,000 each year on the off chance a thunderstorm or truly sweltering morning hits is an expensive insurance policy.
Nostalgia and the best interest of the seniors are less tangible, but can’t be ignored. And local economic impact, while cited, hasn’t been explored. Each year the school district puts out a release about the positive impact of local sporting events being hosted in school district facilities, but it hasn’t included graduation week. Restaurants and hotels are a big part of the Hermiston community, and if they expect to take a hit if the ceremony moves out of state that should be considered.
The school board will meet in October, and must be ready to make a decision for 2018. It’s a one-year decision with room to change for 2019, and after all this due diligence all we can ask for is clarity on why the final decision was made.