Hilo High football field in works; legislature OKs funds for turf surface, synthetic track

  • Tribune-Herald file photo Instead of playing on the mud at Wong Stadium, Hilo High could soon have a campus football field with synthetic turf.

Kaeo Drummondo and Chris Todd can joke about it now, that Hilo High will finally get a new track and field facility to not only hold football practice but host BIIF games as well.

It’s only after the former Vikings coach and his offensive coordinator left their positions that the Hawaii State Legislature passed a budget to fund the $4.5 million project, which includes a new custom turf field and synthetic track.

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Phase 2 of the project, which includes bleachers and a press box, will come in at a much lower cost, said Todd, a state Representative. The project has a $6 million budget to include Phase 2 and overcosts.

The funding will be financed through bonds and not take money away from other state services. Bonds need to be sold and a bid put out for the project. With an unknown start date, Todd is hoping the project is completed within two to three years.

Todd called Hilo High’s track and field the worst in the country. The nearly 80-year-old track slopes toward the ocean and has exposed rocks on its grass field. The field can’t be practiced on after consecutive days of rain for fear of tearing up the grass.

“When I was coaching, I brought House finance chair Sylvia Luke to the field,” Todd said. “We really needed a change, and it was not sustainable or fair to the kids. The field is used for P.E. class and for the bands to do their exercises and by community members, and Army recruiters.”

One of the challenges was limited expectations. A lot of people didn’t think a project could get done, so the motto “It is what it is” came into play and years turned into decades with the Vikings winning BIIF titles, despite practicing on a lopsided field.

“I didn’t think it was possible, but I traveled to Iolani a few years ago and realized it is doable,” he said. “It’ll have a six-lane track, slightly longer and narrower to save space. We looked at different configurations. The parking situation is not great, but we’ve looked at some of the issues.”

Todd noted that state Senator Kai Kahele and House Rep. Mark Nakashima stirred the pot, and the trio let Hilo’s school administration know the project was going to happen. The first meeting with recent retired Hilo principal Robert Dirks and former athletic director Kurt Kawachi took place in 2017 to discuss the funding, plan and design.

Eventually, the new field will host football, soccer, and track and field events. The bleachers will be assigned along the sideline near Waianuenue Street to separate the fans from the locker room.

“There was no sense of spending millions of dollars to practice there and play at Wong Stadium,” said Todd, who pointed out that the track will still be open to the public.

The obvious problem is parking. For basketball and volleyball games, the school’s parking lot, and approximate five-minute walk, to the gym is available. The hope is to turn the annex building, below Hilo High, into a parking lot. That’s another project to tackle in the future, but at least there’s a vision.

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“Kaeo and I were joking that when we both stepped away it finally happened,” Todd said. “The winning also helped to put Hilo High into the public spotlight. I give a lot of credit to the players. We were telling them seven, eight years ago that they’re laying the foundation for all athletes that will come after you. They’ll benefit from your work. They’re a good example of that.”

Editor’s note: This story has been modified to note that the walk from Hilo High’s parking lot to the school gym is an approximate five-minute walk.

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