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School Board punts plans for new Panthers playfield

By: 12 October 2010 4 Comments

The Benton School Board set the table for yet another round of fights over a new football stadium for the Panthers.

The Saline Courier reported that the Benton School Board voted 4-3 to reverse an August decision to spend $11 million to replace C.W. Lewis Stadium, a downtown facility that was built in 1934.

The fate of C.W. Lewis has been a source of controversy these past few months in that some point out the aging facility should be replaced by a new field closer to the high school while others have argued for the value of preserving the history of the the aging stadium. The School Board didn’t help matters by floating an alternative plan to “save” C.W. Lewis over the summer.

Why was “save” in quotes? The plan called for completely knocking down the current facility and spending $15 million to build a new one (complete with a field house — the School Board is just wild about field houses). The typical arguments followed, with those supporting a new stadium howling about progress and lamenting their closed-minded neighbors, while those in favor of preserving C.W. Lewis went on about the value of tradition and proclaiming that the old stadium was good enough for them and is, by gum, good enough for the current generation.

Indeed, listening to some of the arguments on both sides of the issue would have you believe that the fate of the town hinged on where the Panthers would play football for three or four games a year. Fascinating stuff.

Some people even went so far as wondering why the board wasn’t going to spend more on education rather than putting up an $11 million stadium. Some even went so far as to question whether the board should commit taxpayers to a bunch of bonds at a time when the economy is a mess. No one paid much attention to those radicals, however.

After months of wrangling over the issue, the School Board voted 4-3 to go ahead with the $11 million stadium in the Benton Athletic Complex near the high school. Ah, but two of those “yes” votes were up for reelection in September — Steve Deere and Judd Hart.

Yes, the “save the stadium” contingent was lobbying hard against Deere and Hart and — in what has to be one of the more boneheaded campaign moves in recent memory — Deere sent an email to voters crowing about his support for the new stadium. He also mentioned Hart in the email. Any hope those two had of sliding through the election on the anonymity typically afforded School Board members in this town was pretty much gone as soon as Deere hit “send” and circulated his email to voters throughout our fair city.

At any rate, both Deere and Hart lost badly. Paul Viner clobbered Deere 1,054 to 728 and Wade Goodwin whipped Hart 1,203 to 629. Apparently, Benton voters wanted the School Board to have another look at the stadium issue.

And they got their wish on Monday night. Interestingly, Viner voted to continue on with the $11 million stadium. Regardless, Goodwin’s “no” vote was enough to kill the plan, leaving people wondering what will happen next. The board member did manage to pass a budget that includes a $5.9 million field house (they’re wild about field houses, remember?) at the soccer/track complex and a whopping $90,000 in renovations for C.W. Lewis.

You can bet this issue isn’t dead — or even close to it — yet.

About: Ethan C. Nobles:
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email = Ethan@FirstArkansasNews.net.

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