Hermiston High School this year boasted a record number of graduates — but with that came unprecedented crowds filling the gym, auditorium and commons to watch those students walk across the stage.
In the coming months, the Hermiston School District will look at options to better accommodate those crowds, which will likely keep growing. The district is examining three new venues in which graduation could be held: the school’s Bulldog Stadium at Kennison Field, the rodeo grounds at the new Eastern Oregon Trade and Events Center, and the Toyota Center in Kennewick.
Hermiston superintendent Dr. Fred Maiocco said the district would bring the issue before the school board this fall.
“The challenge is that our crowds are growing, and we can only accommodate the same number of people. This year we allowed each student to have five tickets for family members, and last year it was six. I anticipate it would go down to four next year, and that’s just too few.”
Maiocco said this year about 300 people watched the graduation on a screen in the auditorium, and more overflowed into the school commons. There were 1,800 in the gym, not including the students and staff on the floor. This year’s graduating class of 332 students came from a school population of about 1,600.
Of the three options the district is exploring, Maiocco said there are some challenges with each.
“We’re taking another look at the Bulldog stadium, Kennison Field,” he said. But he noted several disadvantages to using that facility, including the lack of air conditioning, and the distance between the crowd and graduates.
“And it only provides a couple hundred more seats,” he said.
The EOTEC rodeo grounds are another option, Maiocco said, that would not address the problem of outdoor heat.
“Unfortunately the EOTEC building is not big enough,” he said.
With nothing in the region on the Oregon side large enough to hold such large crowds, the district has also begun looking across the river. Holding graduation the Toyota Center would be a major change, but mitigates some of the issues the district is looking to address. Maiocco said this year, the district sent a team up to review a graduation at the Toyota Center, and felt it may be a good option for Hermiston.
“The basic rental would be less than $10,000 to rent a facility,” Maiocco said. “But that’s not the only cost. We’d look at transportation, all logistics.”
But he added that Hermiston already spends about $10,000 on graduation, even at its own facility.
Maiocco said the district is currently analyzing its options.
“We’ll certainly take public input, and provide all kids of opportunities for that,” he said. “But ultimately, it’s a school board decision.”
Maiocco said the district aims to find a solution to its graduation issues for the upcoming school year.