On the surface, it doesn’t make sense. A cash-strapped city that supposedly embraces public-private partnerships gets a sweetheart offer and then, after enthusiastically endorsing that offer, suddenly decides it’s not so sure anymore. And then, just as suddenly, that offer is taken off the table.
But then you realize the reasons behind it – politics and pride – and it’s not so befuddling any more.
In case you haven’t followed this story: Salesianum School offered to take over the operations at city-owned Baynard Stadium – easily the premier stadium facility in Wilmington outside of Frawley Stadium – and completely refurbish the place. And the most important detail of all — the school would raise the necessary funds, around $20 million, itself.
First, the politics: Initially, Wilmington City Council enthusiastically endorsed the proposal, but then some city residents, led by state representative Charles Potter Jr., voiced skepticism over the deal, and some members of City Council decided that more time was needed to look over the details before rubber-stamping the agreement.
Now, the pride: Salesianum could have shrugged its shoulders and said, “OK, form your task force and do your cross-checking or whatever and then get back to us.” But they didn’t, and for one simple reason – pride. City Council’s decision was a slap in face to the integrity of the institution and everything that it stands for, and that was something Salesianum simply couldn’t abide.
Disclosure time: I am not an unbiased observer of this situation – three generations of my family have gone to Sallies, including my father, who was one of the first alumni to be inducted into the Salesianum School Hall of Fame.
But, bias aside, all the evidence points to Salesianum as a place and a people that can be trusted. This is not a case of some carpetbagger riding into town, fleecing the locals and then sneaking back out. Sallies is and has always been a city school, including its original location at Eighth and West Streets. The school has been a big part of the fabric of Wilmington for more than a century and its model is St. Frances de Sales, the gentleman saint. And gentlemen don’t rip people off.
And let’s not forget that Salesianum was the first school in Delaware to integrate, which happened in 1950, four years before the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling that struck down desegregation in public schools. Some of the people who stand to benefit most from a renovated Baynard Stadium are inner-city kids, and Sallies made it clear that the same schools and groups that used Baynard Stadium in the past were welcome to continue using it and at no additional cost. In fact, a new artificial surface and improved amenities would have made it possible for even more groups to use it.
But then Salesianum’s intentions and integrity were questioned by the very people they were trying to help, and that’s an insult the school could not take. Some may perceive that as false pride, but obviously the administration did not.
Still, our guess is that Salesianum’s decision won’t be the final word. Somehow the two sides will re-connect and come together and at some point Salesianum will raise the necessary funds and take over the operations at Baynard Stadium, as planned. Eventually, the grown-ups will wake up and do what’s best for the kids.