Nearly seven years ago I posted a video to social media that, sadly, is no longer viewable. It was a 20-second clip recorded underneath the Watsonville High School press box at Emmett M. Geiser Field. In the video, I ever so slightly nudged a support column that was supposed to be holding up the then-two story press box—and a half-dozen or so people that pile in during a game—at the center of the home side stands. The chewed-up wooden column swung like a pendulum. It was supposed to be cemented into the ground holding up thousands of pounds. In the social media post, I called the press box a “death trap” and advised that people enter at their own risk. Less than a month later, the powers-that-be condemned the decaying structure, chopped the top floor off and replaced the flimsy, aging columns.
I don’t bring up that situation to flex my muscles. I bring it up because it’s a telling story about how we have treated some of our Pajaro Valley Unified School District schools, and the low expectations we have for our facilities. To my surprise, I was not the first person to notice the wobbly column under the press box back in 2014. Some people I asked about the issue said that they had let someone else know and that the repairs would happen—eventually. Others said that no matter how much they complained, nothing would get done until someone got hurt. One response that put things into perspective was someone laughing the situation off and saying “yeah, that’s Watsonville.”
To me, that’s unacceptable. But for many, that’s what we’ve grown to accept. And we do it because “that’s Watsonville.” Our kids and our community deserve better. Safety should be at the forefront of everything we do. And if we really care about keeping people safe, then we should use some of the $10 million of federal funding the PVUSD Board of Trustees recently set aside to rebuild the Watsonville High School bleachers, press box and restrooms.
I, like many others, have fallen through those old, outdated bleachers and scraped the heck out of my shins and elbows. Others have fallen through the gaps between the wooden benches and suffered worse injuries—some have even had to go to the hospital. And up until I was a senior in high school, I never thought there was anything wrong with the bleachers. Not until a friend from a neighboring school district came to a Watsonville High School sporting event did I realize there was something off. I remember them asking “what the hell is up with these stands?” To which I replied, “what do you mean?” They saw a safety hazard. I didn’t know any better.
I understand that the district has tough choices to make with the money it has set aside. The aforementioned $10 million is a fraction of the money that PVUSD needs to fulfill every facility upgrade recently identified. But safety needs to be at the heart of the decision-making process, and we also need to think about what projects will affect the most people. Think about how many of us use those stands on a daily, weekly, monthly or annual basis. On top of high school athletics, youth and adult soccer and football leagues use Geiser. Annual events like Relay For Life also welcome hundreds of people to Watsonville High School, and graduations see thousands flood those bleachers for several hours. Those who are wheelchair-bound or have another disability are largely excluded, too, because of the lack of ADA accessibility.
This project—estimated at $3 million by PVUSD staff—is an investment into the greater Watsonville community. We’ve all seen these bleachers, and we’ve either made excuses for not renovating them or have yet to come to the realization that our kids deserve better. It’s time to set a new standard.
Tony Nuñez is the Managing Editor of the Pajaronian. Contact him at [email protected].