Members of the Class of 2013 from Lodi and Tokay high schools will not be walking across the iconic Lodi Grape Bowl football field to receive their diplomas upon graduation.
City staff said they can’t promise construction at the Grape Bowl will be complete by the end of May, according to Dawn Vetica, Lodi Unified School District’s assistant superintendent of secondary education.
Instead, Lodi seniors will turn their tassels and toss their mortar boards at the A.G. Spanos Center at University of the Pacific in Stockton. McNair High School has held graduation ceremonies at the Spanos Center since the school opened in 2005. This will be a one-time change of venue. The Class of 2014 will return to the Grape Bowl.
In September 2012, the Lodi City Council voted to begin construction in November on the $1.7 million Grape Bowl renovation project, to allow the graduation tradition to continue.
“We took a chance in starting the construction, knowing full well we would possibly run into a rainy season,” said Councilman Bob Johnson.
While extreme rain hasn’t materialized, the district needed ample time to plan three ceremonies. Councilman Phil Katzakian said the change in venue was a “just in case” measure.
“The goal was to get as much done as possible,” he said. “It’s been a tradition forever.”
The decision was made at the end of January, and students were notified about two weeks ago. Though the venue is officially reserved, Vetica does not yet have a contract or the final cost.
“When you’re planning, you need to know the place will be available. There are people in the city who graduated at the Grape Bowl and would love to see the tradition continue, but it’s one of those things,” said Vetica.
Lodi High will graduate on Wednesday, May 22, while Tokay High will hold their ceremony on Thursday, May 23. McNair will have their graduation on May 24. The district will provide transportation to graduation practices, but students and families must find their own way to the ceremony.
Project manager Paul Bickford said the Grape Bowl construction contract runs through July. The hope was that if construction went well, the renovation could stall at a stage to allow the ceremonies to go on. But Lodi Unified didn’t want to risk it.
“I’m afraid what may look bad is if we do finish before graduation,” said Bickford.
In the next month, area residents will see a new walkway installed at the Grape Bowl, and the former ramp area covered in new landscaping. Once concrete is poured, fencing and metal railings can be installed. The design for the concession stand and bathrooms is still in the works.
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.