$900,000 project primarily financed through donations

by: CONTRIBUTED RENDERING - This artist rendering depicts what a proposed plaza on the east side of the Southridge High School football stadium might look like upon its planned completion in September 2014.What a difference a year can make.

That’s what Jeff Keller thought during Monday night’s Beaverton School Board meeting. The board enthusiastically approved constructing a memorial plaza at Southridge High School to honor his late son Andrew and others connected to the district who gave their lives to serve their country.

The board cast a unanimous vote for the $900,000 project, most of which will be covered by cash and in-kind donations. Located on the east side of the school’s football stadium, the plaza will recognize members of the Southridge and greater South Beaverton communities with walls dedicated to honor, generosity and hope. On a more practical level, the plaza will include permanent restrooms, concession facilities, an inviting community gathering space and ticket booths for stadium events.

Community members were unsuccessful in their quest to name the school’s football stadium in honor of Pfc. Andrew Keller, a 2008 Southridge graduate and star Skyhawk football player who was killed in combat in Afghanistan on Aug. 15, 2012. His father acknowledges his frustrations from last fall were replaced with something closer to elation on Monday CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Pfc. Andrew Keller

“I think it’s pretty amazing,” Jeff Keller said right after the meeting. “I was sitting here a year ago, frustrated about why it was taking so long. I started realizing that it was not the right thing, that there was something bigger than naming the field after Andrew, and there should be a way to bring the community together and create a place for our community to gather.”

Game changer

The School Board in January chose to maintain the district’s policy of not naming district facilities after individuals. Since then, Jeff Keller has worked with the Southridge High School Booster Committee to incorporate a memorial element into its long-sought plan to improve the muddy, bark-chipped surface area on the stadium’s east side. Permanent facilities for use by both home and visiting fans along with improved spectator access to field sports and track events will replace portable toilets and temporary concession facilities under the stadium bleachers.

Southridge Principal Todd Corsetti said Jeff Keller’s involvement with the booster club lit a fire under the project, something parent groups struggled for years to achieve.

“For 15 years we’ve looked at a kind of an eyesore, which is the patio outside of the fishbowl that we call it, outside the football or athletic complex,” he said. “Inevitably, (funding improvements) became too daunting of a task.”

With between 60 and 75 percent of the project already funded through cash and in-kind donations, the plaza is expected to be completed by September 2014.

“The unfortunate passing of Andrew has really galvanized (the community),” Corsetti said, crediting the “formidable team” of Jeff Keller and booster committee President Dave Gerske. “The idea of moving from a three-year or three-stage process to Dave telling me this can happen over the summer was really encouraging and enlightening.”

Gerske said the plaza — particularly the wall with engraved names of fallen soldiers — expands the original idea of memorializing Andrew by renaming the stadium.

“It gives us a chance to represent all those heroes at different levels, and it really brings the school into the community,” he said, making note of in-kind labor and materials donations from businesses including Bratton Masonry, Christenson Electric, Apollo Mechanical, Mutual Materials and Apex Directional Drilling. “It’s crazy. But what it means to me is it really reinforces the need that we have as a school, and the need we have as a community to do something like this.”

Benefits outweigh financial risk

Dick Steinbrugge, the school district’s executive administrator for facilities, admitted the project’s completion depends on donated funds and labor. The district could potentially bear costs if those resources were to fall through.

“We think the risk-benefit ratio is very much on the favorable side of the scale,” he said. “It’s not zero. If for some reason the boosters went away, there is kind of nothing back there to finish the project.

“We think the risk is very low, and the benefits are very high,” he added.

Garske indicated the project will be planned to avoid awkward gaps in construction or financing.

“We do not intend to start any pieces until we’ve got the entire component done, so we can do it all at one time,” he said. “And then the risk potentially could be that the concessions building would get built but not the landscaping around it.”

Those concerns aside, board members expressed palpable enthusiasm for the fast-moving project.

“This is truly amazing,” said board member Linda Degman. “Thank you for the work everybody’s put into this. I can’t wait to see it. This will be an amazing tribute.”

In addition to its more practical amenities, the plaza will include a circle centered by a bronzed No. 13 helmet, what Andrew Keller wore while playing for the Southridge Skyhawks. One wall panel will be devoted to sharing Keller’s story and another will include a quote from a letter he wrote to his mother, Kim, before his deployment to Afghanistan, “... but isn’t that what life is about? Making the ultimate sacrifice for that small chance of making a difference in somebody’s life.”

For Jeff Keller, the reward of seeing such a comprehensive project fall quickly into place is more than worth the setbacks his family and friends encountered in the wake of Andrew’s untimely death.

“The way it’s evolved, the way everybody came together to create this,” he said, “it’s just been overwhelming.”by: CONTRIBUTED ART - This artist rendering depicts what a proposed plaza on the east side of the Southridge High School football stadium might look like upon its planned completion in September 2014.

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