The St. Louis Park School District upgraded its high school stadium field last summer. Now officials want to upgrade the stadium itself.
Athletic Director Andy Ewald presented a project with an estimated price tag of $870,000 to the St. Louis Park School Board Nov. 26.
He discussed a number of problems with the existing arrangement. Visiting teams must use locker room space at Central Community Center during halftime. Fans must resort to using portable toilets as permanent bathrooms at the stadium do not exist. Game workers, members of the media and coaches must jockey for position in the stadium’s press box, sometimes leading ParkTV commentators to broadcast from a remote area in the bleachers instead.
“They’ve brought in tables, put them in the crowd and had monitors and their play-by-play people out amongst everybody else versus being able to be in the press box where they belong,” Ewald said.
The stadium’s press box size is about half the size of many other high school stadium boxes, Ewald said.
His plan, developed with the assistance of a Stadium Improvement Committee, calls for remodeling and adding onto an existing building to allow for improved ticket sales, permanent bathrooms with 24 fixtures divided evenly between the men’s and women’s facilities and a concessions area. A new press box would contain three sections, one for game workers, one for the home team and one for the visiting team. It would be 48 feet long, with 16 feet dedicated per section.
While Ewald’s plan does not call for full locker rooms on site, the project would include warming space for each team and a storage area. He noted he or other district officials frequently need to ask other Central users to leave so that visiting players can use the locker room. He called the issue a safety concern as players must navigate stairs often while wearing cleats. The walk over and back from the community center also uses up much of the halftime period.
Boardmember Ken Morrison wondered about the cost to provide full locker rooms at the stadium, but Ewald said he does not believe enough space exists on the site “for true locker rooms.” He anticipated St. Louis Park athletes would continue to use the high school itself for storing athletic equipment but said a warming house would provide protective shelter if there is bad weather, a place to gather temporarily way from the crowds and restrooms.
“I think just that would make a big enough difference,” Ewald said.
Regarding concessions, Ewald said a lack of storage space for concessions leads parents and volunteers to stock up on the day of an event.
“It’s a lot of work for our parent volunteers,” Ewald said.
The limited sales area leads to a mass of people lined up for concessions, he said.
The district would apply for a Hennepin County grant that could fund up to $325,000 of the project. The district would pay for the remaining costs through its operating capital, generally tax-derived funds that pay for district operations.
The city has won the Hennepin County grant previously for Rotary Field at Northside Park and for lighting improvements at Louisiana Oaks Parks.
Boardmember Julie Sweitzer noted the projection of $870,000 would not include ongoing costs to clean and maintain new facilities at the stadium.
“We would want to take that into consideration,” Sweitzer said.
Boardmember Nancy Gores suggested Ewald also consider rails along stairs throughout the bleachers. Students, parents and grandparents struggle along the stairs without rails in areas, especially in rain, Gores said.
Board Chair Jim Yarosh inquired about whether the district should replace the stadium’s sound system, but Ewald said he did not consider the sound equipment to be a priority. Replacing the system would cost about $90,000, he said. He suggested the district could explore whether part replacements could improve the sound instead of paying for an entirely new system.
The Stadium Improvement Committee considered the upgrades Ewald recommended as part of a second phase of stadium work, with the first phase consisting of a new artificial turf field at the stadium. The artificial turf field has attracted requests from outside user groups for use. The district has previously developed rental rules.
Supporters of the artificial turf field argued the district could use the surface considerably more than the previous natural grass field. The new field experienced a fair amount of use in the summer and fall, Ewald said. He added he believes use of the field will ramp up further next spring and summer.