Parents Question Why $300,000 in Fees Collected by Parks Bureau Didn’t Stay at Grant Bowl

Parks paid for just a portion of the turf there in 2013 but collected all the outside fees.

Parents of Grant High School athletes are livid that the school’s football and soccer field has been closed for use for the academic year, news they got just days before practices began.

Unlike almost all other school fields, Grant’s is owned by Portland Parks & Recreation, which is in charge of its upkeep. Earlier this month, the bureau disclosed that the rubber crumbs and sand in the artificial turf had been compacted by 10 years of use, and that playing on it could be dangerous.

What galls parents even more is that the parks bureau has been collecting fees from groups outside of Portland Public Schools for use of the field, raking in $307,527 since 2014, the year after the field was refurbished. Why, parents ask, couldn’t Portland Parks have used that money to repair the field, known as Grant Bowl, and keep their kids off buses to borrowed fields around the city, including Delta Park and the old Marshall High School, both 6 miles away?

“They just took that money and left us with a failed asset,” says Kim McGair, parent of a senior on the women’s soccer team and co-founder of the Grant Bowl Community Coalition. “They could have extended the life beyond 10 years with some midspan work, and they had plenty of money to do it.”

The parks bureau says that’s not how the fee system works. All fees go into a pool of money that’s used to pay for daily operations and routine maintenance at all city parks, says parks spokesman Mark Ross, supplementing money from the city’s general fund and from the Parks Local Option Levy, a property tax of 80 cents per $1,000 of assessed value that began in 2021 and was set to run for five years.

Fees “are not allocated to specific assets, and they do not fund capital repairs or major maintenance,” Ross said in an email. In short, money raised at Grant didn’t stay at Grant.

“It makes no sense,” McGair says. “Why wouldn’t you put user fees back into the assets used?”

Especially upsetting, according to Grant parents, is that the parks bureau paid just $452,000 of the $1.7 million needed to renovate Grant’s field in 2013. After years of holding bake sales and other fundraisers, parents there won donations from Nike ($350,000) and professional football player Ndamukong Suh, a graduate of Grant High ($250,000). Portland Public Schools kicked in $391,000, and other donations covered the rest.

In its original notice about the problem at Grant on Aug. 12, the parks bureau pleaded poverty, citing a $600 million maintenance backlog citywide and warning that the worst was yet to come, with 1 in 5 parks assets expected to fail in the next 15 years unless more funding arrives.

On Monday, the parks bureau and PPS said they planned to fix the field but that it wouldn’t be ready until fall 2024. Their three-paragraph statement was too light on details for many Grant parents.

“While the Grant Bowl Community Coalition appreciates that our elected officials are responding to the outcry from the Grant community over the loss of this critical field one day before the kickoff to the fall sports season, this response is inadequate for the urgent situation facing Grant students,” McGair’s group said. “The statement does not identify who will pay for the replacement, who will supervise and implement it, or any other details. The PPS school board has not passed a board resolution supporting funding for the field. The statement appears to be nothing more than an effort to persuade the public that there may be a solution in a year, rather than an actual solution now.”

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