Even before the COVID-19 crisis, school days over the last two years were far from normal for students at Milwaukie High School.
During construction of a new school building, students attended classes in modular buildings set up on the football field, an awkward arrangement that created a ripple effect through the school's athletic programs.
"It definitely threw a wrench into sports that needed the stadium," said Athletic Director Sean Mailey. "Track and field got decimated. They probably lost 50 percent of their athletes over three years. Football got crushed by it as well. They made the playoffs in 2017, and got down to winless. It was hard for school spirit."
But things are looking up at Milwaukie, thanks to improvements from the North Clackamas School District's $433 million capital construction bond, passed in 2016. The sparkling new school building is ready to open, and once sports get the green-light, athletes will have a wide array of upgraded facilities at their disposal.
"It's going to be great," Mailey said. "I'm really happy for the community and the kids at Milwaukie to get this. We're the smallest school in the district, and the district really dedicated time and money to help Milwaukie out."
The centerpiece is the football stadium complex, which will give the Mustangs a proud new home after two years of playing at Alder Creek Middle School, the old Clackamas High School.
The new FieldTurf playing surface has alternating light and dark green turf every five yards, and unlike the old field, features maroon end zones with "Milwaukie" written in gold letters in one and "Mustangs" in the other. A maroon "M" in the school's new branded font sits in the center of the field, stretching past the 45-yard lines.
"It's pretty special. The field is gorgeous," Mailey said.
The grandstand was refurbished and painted gray with maroon accents. The wood seating was replaced by aluminum benches and the press box was reinforced and painted, with "Mustangs" scrawled across the front, visible from nearby Southeast Washington Street.
A resurfaced black track circles the field. A pavilion area between a new parking lot and the south end zone features a courtyard for special events and spaces that could be rented for games.
"We envision having tailgaters," Mailey said. "Any event at the stadium, we can have food carts, coffee carts. The student leadership classroom is on that pavilion, so they can sell booster stuff."
The upgrades to Milwaukie's facilities are part of a district-wide effort, with the football fields at Clackamas, Putnam and Alder Creek also are being replaced.
As part of the project, Milwaukie upgraded its athletic facilities on nearby property along Southeast Lake Road. Artificial turf was installed on the varsity baseball and softball fields in time for the 2019 season. The area also provides practice space for soccer and football.
The gym, built in the 1940s, remained standing but was "fully gutted," according to Mailey. Improvements included a new roof, seismic upgrades, LED lighting and air conditioning.
The gym floor was resurfaced and painted, including a gold outline of an "M" at center court and graphics of stampeding mustangs stretching from the home bench to the opposite side of the court.
The project included an updated Mustang logo and branding. The school went back to its traditional "athletic" gold after straying to "Vegas" gold in recent years.
"We really honed in our colors, maroon and our old gold," Mailey said. "We want to be true to our history. Let's stick to the colors that we were forever. It's more like USC as opposed to Florida State."
The last two years, Milwaukie used the facilities at Alder Creek for football, soccer and track. The track team was unable to host meet in either 2018 or 2019 before having its 2020 season canceled.
"The track team got hit the worst," Mailey said.
Even though normalcy for students is still a ways off, at least the days of attending school on the football field are over.
"It just felt odd. It was just a weird scenario to be out there," Mailey said. "It's been nice to see all of this come through."
— Jerry Ulmer writes for OSAAtoday
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