I recently returned to town to hear about the potential goings-on regarding a group of unnamed donors and the school board. Is constructing a 3,000-seat football stadium on Northwest Boulevard next to Wiley Middle School — all to be privately funded and later to be “donated” to Winston Salem/Forsyth County Schools — really under consideration?
I grew up at 525 N. Hawthorne Road and attended both Wiley Middle and Reynolds High schools. Having spent my career in law enforcement, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly. This stadium plan isn’t pretty and it’s not in the best interest of the citizens of Winston-Salem. They’re trying to fit a size 12 foot into a size 6 shoe.
My great-grandfather, P.H. Hanes, gave 49 acres to be developed into a public park almost 100 years ago. His intent was that all citizens be able to enjoy safe recreation — meaning that regardless of personal wherewithal, everyone would have access to top-tier athletic fields in a pastoral setting.
Some folks have said they know exactly what he intended for the park. They’ve pulled out preliminary drawings of the park, that were never realized, as proof that their plan is in keeping with his plan. Well, saying a sketch of a 1919 football field translates to intentions to build a 2014 football stadium is like saying a cat grows up to be a grizzly bear.
Imagine Northwest Boulevard at Wiley with this stadium. Add 3,000 people. To the existing parked school buses and local traffic, add 1,000 more cars. Believe me, the congestion will be a nightmare. People are going to get injured in traffic accidents and pedestrians will get hit.
A few more years down the road, rezoning will be proposed. Are you ready for that one, Runnymede Park, North Hawthorne residents and surrounding areas? It’s also likely that concerned parents will insist that the soccer fields in the park be paved to make a safer parking lot. Give it a little time and all this will surely follow.
It’s clear this plan won’t last 100 years. The modern architecture of the stadium will be as dated in 20 years as the 1950s gyms they want to tear down now. To build a stadium at Wiley would constitute reckless endangerment to the general public and lawsuits by the score against the school board when accidents occur. Have any of the rank-and-file public servants at EMS, police and fire departments been officially contacted in writing for their input and opinions? The hindrances to the emergency routes alone make this a recipe for disaster.
This sort of planning is absolutely not in keeping with the original intent for Hanes Park, Wiley Middle or Reynolds High School. That’s why I sincerely hope safer, alternative sites are being looked at. But then again, why would they? We all know why the park is suddenly more attractive than ever. They need a stadium on a school campus so they can take advantage of not having to submit a parking plan before beginning such a massive construction project.
Look, I know there is a new generation of civic leaders developing their own vision and willing to provide their own funds toward Winston-Salem’s future. But let me leave you with one cautionary tale. In the late 1950s, Mayor Marshall Kurfees did the political bidding of some big donors such that Business 40 was re-routed around Lockland Avenue, creating the infamous Hawthorne Curve, which became one of the deadliest sections of roadway in the entire state. That insider decision resulted in hundreds of deaths and car and truck accidents over the years until the curve had to be fixed at great expense.
The root of this catastrophe was that decisions were made, not in the best interest of the city or its citizens, but at the behest of special interests. Let’s not make the same mistake twice. Don’t let big donors decide what the school board should do. Let the people of Winston-Salem make the decision. Because believe me, this pitch is a Hawthorne Curve ball.
At this point, given the public outcry, the school board should host a public forum at Reynolds auditorium, get a moderator and let both sides have their say. Let’s air this concept publicly in a big space, not in a small room at City Hall.
Huber Hanes is a retired law-enforcement officer who lives in Glendale Springs. The Journal welcomes original submissions for guest columns on local, regional and statewide topics. Essay length should not exceed 750 words. The writer should have some authority for writing about his or her subject. Our e-mail address is: Letters@wsjournal.com. Essays may also be mailed to: The Readers’ Forum, P.O. Box 3159, Winston-Salem, NC 27102. Please include your name and address and a daytime telephone number.