For the first time since it opened back in 1950, the Baker Bulldog Memorial Stadium could be in line for a major renovation project.
But the Baker School District athletic department likely will need to raise more than $4 million through grants and private donations to bring the plan to fruition at the football stadium at Ninth and E streets just west of Baker High School.
“Obviously we are in the very, very early stages,” said Buell Gonzales Jr., the school district’s athletic director.The three-year project, which includes rebuilding and replanting the grass field, replacing the roof on the grandstand, installing a new press box and rebuilding the concrete walkways, stairs and ramps, would cost an estimated $4.3 million.
Gonzales, who made a presentation to the school board about the proposal on April 15, acknowledged the financial challenges.
“The District obviously doesn’t have that kind of money sitting around, so that would be something that the athletic department and the district would fundraise for,” Gonzales said. “The money is going to be the hardest piece to bring to fruition, so we are just going to have to do a lot of work to get that in place.”
Mark Witty, the school district superintendent, echoed Gonzales’ thoughts.
“We want to be a partner — that’s why we did the study,” Witty said. We recognize there’s a responsibility to upgrade that stadium. But as far as funding we’re going to need some serious help.”
Witty said the district’s top priority within its budget is, and will remain, improving its schools. That’s the reason the district is asking voters in the May 18 election to approve a $4 million property tax bond measure that would be added to a $4 million state grant, and $4 million in district capital project dollars, to replace heating, cooling and ventilation systems at all schools, replace the roof at South Baker Intermediate, build a cafeteria/kitchen at Baker Middle School and improve the security at all schools.
The stadium renovations, by contrast, will depend on fundraising, not on district dollars, Witty said.
Stadium project history
The project started about three years ago when a group of district officials and others assessed the stadium and came up with a list of suggested improvements.
Then, a year ago, Gonzales joined that group, which reviewed the list of renovations and came up with a formal proposal.
“They looked at the facilities, studied the plans and they came with their recommendations after they did it in their assessment piece,” Gonzales said.
A major need in the 71-year-old stadium is improving access for people with disabilities.
“That’s probably one of the high priorities, the ADA accessibility,” Gonzales said.
After seven decades of wear and tear from weather, the stadium also has cracks in its concrete, and wood siding needs to be replaced.
“The actual physical condition of the facility itself needs to be addressed,” Gonzales said.
Due to the extent of the work, the architects divided the project into three phases over three years, potentially starting in the summer of 2022 if money is available.
“They gave a timeframe, phase one, two and three that would meet those upgrades,” Gonzales said.
The tentative schedule:
Phase 1: Summer of 2022
• Demolish lower eastside bleachers and lower concrete slab
• Demolish existing field and regrade/reposition.
• New retaining wall and guardrail.
• Remove shrubs.
• Install prefab press box.
• Order new sports equipment.
Phase 2: Summer of 2023
• New restrooms, concessions with all new equipment and fixtures.
• Replacing the wood siding
• Replace electric, water and sewage.
• ADA accessibility upgrades
• Upgrade signage, lighting and wayfinding
• New stone veneer in the front entryway
Phase 3: Summer of 2024
• Replace roof on west side.
• Replace bleachers on the west side.
• Replace of concrete walkways, stairs, ramps.
• Demolish section AA and extend the wood wall.
• Demolish and replace upper east side bleachers.
• Demolish westside press box.
Although he concedes the fundraising challenge the project entails, Gonzales is confident he can show potential donors why the upgrades are needed.
“You have this gushing wound, you just don’t want to keep putting a Band-aid over it, at some point you are going to have that’s a long-term fix,” Gonzales said.
In 2019 the school district replaced the railing at the bottom of the westside grandstand and removed the grassy embankment behind the home team bench area.
Workers also installed a new sound system. Ash Grove Cement contributed $15,000 and the Baker Quarterback Club $5,000. The school district paid the remaining $20,000 for the sound system.
He also emphasizes that the renovations will not alter the stadium’s unique character and appeal, with the field in a bowl that sits below the street level.
“It still maintains its iconic bowl-shaped feature, a gorgeous grass field, a little bit wider, safer for our student-athletes, multi-purpose so it will get used more often,” Gonzales said. “The look of it will have a new appeal to it, new bleachers, new paint, the bathrooms will be upgraded, wider entrances, better signage, it will give that facility a much needed face lift but it will still be Baker Bulldog Memorial Stadium.”
Gonzales is ready for the long road ahead to see these plans come to fruition.
“The first step is completed, we got the assessment, we got the cost, now the hard work is fundraising the money, and getting the money in hand,” Gonzales said.
Jayson Jacoby of the Baker City Herald contributed to this story.