Ready, set, dig: Cloquet school board approves facilities project


April 14, 2023

When a group of community members formed in 2022 with the goal of bringing a million dollars’ worth of artificial turf to Bromberg Field, they could not have predicted that the Cloquet school board would approve a nearly $5 million project to overhaul the outdoor athletic facilities at the high school a year later.

But that’s exactly what happened.

Cloquet school board members voted unanimously Monday to approve a $4.99 million project. The plan includes replacing the current grass football and soccer field with turf and widening the field for soccer; adding a new scoreboard with video capability; reconstructing, resurfacing and widening the aging track; moving the discus and shot put stations; and relocating and doubling the tennis courts from four to eight. The home bleachers will remain. There will be new combination football posts with soccer goals.

Superintendent Michael Cary pointed out that the project grew because there was a need: the current tennis courts were in need of repair and inadequate for a growing program, and the track now features deep cracks in a number of places. “We knew this was work that needed to be done,” he said.

He estimated both the girls and boys tennis programs have grown to between 40 and 50 participants.

“When you look at only having four courts for that many students, it doesn’t really make for an appropriate practice facility,” he said. “It’s kind of like trying to practice with three basketball teams on one court.”

The board also approved four alternate options Monday, including an asphalt tennis court viewing area — important for future tournaments — and lighting on the south four courts, plus a fiber connection to the press box from the middle school, to eventually replace the Wi-Fi bridge currently in use. They also approved upgrading to a better grade of turf with extra sand and rubberized pellets for the field.

“So it’s a more cushioned surface for the athletes and the Phy Ed participants,” Cary said, after also describing how much more often the district will be able to use a turf field versus saving the grass for varsity soccer and football games plus a few special occasions.

The school district will tap several sources to pay for the project.

Board members voted Monday to issue capital facilities bonds in the amount of $2.715 million, up from the earlier proposal of $2 million. The bonds would be paid back with capital facility funds from the state, rather than local tax levies over the next 13 years.

Sponsorship dollars from Members Cooperative Credit Union for naming rights will pay for the $1.25 million turf field, plus up to $300,000 toward the cost of a new scoreboard. Cary said current estimates are closer to $250,000 for that, and they’ve already had inquiries from an entity that wants to buy the old scoreboard.

Federal ESSER (pandemic relief) funds will cover $1 million in costs, money the district already has.

The budget includes $191,000 of contingency funds. If costs run over, Cary suggested the board could use $20,000 to $30,000 out of the district’s $5.3 million unassigned fund balance and be “financially just fine.”

Board member Hawk Huard asked about the original community group that formed to solicit sponsors to help cover the costs, wondering if the group quit working once MCCU signed on.

Activities director Paul Riess explained that it was the community group that first met with MCCU, and reached out to other businesses but stopped once MCCU said it wanted to be the exclusive sponsor, covering all of the community portion of the costs.

“When Members stepped up and said ‘this is the pot of money we’re willing to give, but we don’t want any other advertising out there,’ well, we’re not going to go out and talk to other businesses,” Riess said.

With at least two of the original turf committee members — Kerry Rodd and Lance Horvat — in the audience, Cary said the committee did its job by connecting the school district with MCCU. Cary added that he will reach back out to see if committee members would work on the Legacy Wall fundraising, which will be smaller community contributions that could be used for other needs. Donor names would be listed on a wall somewhere in the facility.

“It’s kind of like the icing on the cake,” Cary said of the Legacy Wall. “We’re giving you the cake tonight, that would be the icing that goes on.”

Legacy Wall funds could be used for things that didn’t make the cut, such as LED lighting for the turf field, Cary said, or reserved for replacing the turf down the road, board member Sarah Buhs suggested.

Reached by phone Tuesday night, Rodd said the whole idea started out of a conversation in a garage about why Cloquet didn’t have turf when nearly every other school its size north of the Twin Cities did.

That eventually led to a meeting between Rodd, Riess, Cary, Steve Micke and Cloquet finance director Candace Nelis to figure out the next step, which was forming a committee. Then football coach Jeff Ojanen got involved and Cary proposed broadening the project, and things really got rolling.

“It’s kind of crazy,” Rodd said. “To go from the idea of just getting turf to this beautiful new facility is incredible … and pretty exciting.”


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