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Blanchette: City drops snowball at Albi

Mon., Nov. 29, 2010

Just curious: If Spokane hosted another glitzy skating event and the ice-making machinery at the Arena went on the fritz in the days before, what sort of business, governmental and volunteer effort would have been mobilized to fund and/or make the repairs and save the civic face?

No expense, no resource, no amount of duct tape would have been spared.

And yet somehow, we couldn’t get a football field cleared of snow to host a couple of high school playoff games on Saturday.

So today, Ferris and East Valley are trying to earn their way into state championship games in Tacoma, where they can play indoor football, while jokes are made about Spokane still being without indoor plumbing – or at least without snow shovels.

In the meantime, a playoff game – eight-man, the fun stuff – went off as scheduled Saturday in Cheney at Roos Field, where apparently the three-alarm red turf simply melted away all the white.

And down in Kennewick, volunteers toiled shovel-to-shovel to clear Lampson Stadium so that Kamiakin’s semifinal could be played.

This is another palm-to-the-forehead Spokane moment, but also one deserving of some restraint and fairness. It’s not as if the people involved didn’t want to get this done, or do what they could to pull it off. And, yes, we are talking about a couple of high school football games. There were no Chilean miners trapped underneath all that snow.

But it does speak again to the general afterthought that Albi Stadium has been for 30 years now, and how little civic care seems to attach itself to anything that isn’t The Big Event.

As for the decision to bail on the games, that call belonged to Randy Ryan, the secretary of both the Greater Spokane League and District 8 of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association. By the time he had to make it – about 4:30 Friday afternoon – he had little choice. But it wasn’t as if he just wandered out to the stadium then.

“You know, historically at Albi there has been no snow removal equipment,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for 15 years and I remember twice in the past when we’ve had some slushy snow that we’ve been able to hand shovel off and prep the morning of the game.”

And the early Monday weather reports indicated that’s what would have to be dealt with before the weekend. Then, obviously, things began to change. Ryan said he was considering “pulling the plug” as early as Tuesday, but the city staff concocted a custom-made blade for a tractor that cleared the field in three hours.

Then came Thanksgiving, and more snow – wetter and heavier – and the two-wheel-drive tractor and the new blade weren’t making a dent. A four-wheel-drive tractor was brought in, but the bucket on it couldn’t be lowered completely for fear of tearing the turf, and so it too was ineffective.

As the hours ticked by, Ryan made his reluctant call to the WIAA, and the games were shifted to Tacoma – even though teams from both Bellarmine Prep and Tumwater had arrived in Spokane.

“The mistake I made, and I feel really bad, was that if I’d made the decision earlier in the week, the WIAA might have had a chance to do something on the east side,” Ryan said.

And what about a volunteer effort a la Kennewick?

“I could envision the Chinese building a dam with the number of people you’d need to get that field cleared,” said Ryan, stressing the depth and weight of the snow.

So how about calling up Bloomsday and Hoopfest and asking to tap into their volunteer bases, or putting out a plea through the media for a couple of hundred people with plastic shovels?

Man, that sounds like something Joe Albi might have done.

Beyond that, some other questions: Why not an appeal for help from the private sector? Where, in all of this, was the Snow Wrangler of City Hall? Did anybody ring up the folks at Eastern Washington and ask, “Hey, how are you getting the snow off your field?”

Still, what echoes is Ryan’s revelation that there has never been snow removal equipment at city-owned Albi, or apparently any kind of a plan in case of such a massive dump.

Tough to justify special equipment for such a rare circumstance, true. And now, of course, the city has a budget crisis that goes beyond the needs of high school football. But the indifference to Albi’s upkeep and utility far predates this fiasco. Pouring more money into the stadium while laying off police and freezing salaries would be as popular as 18 more inches on your driveway this morning. But the city has done nothing to get itself out of the stadium landlord business, and thus it has obligations.

Mostly it has the obligation to be prepared.

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