Friday night plight: Esko football field without lights, seatingFriday Night Lights will become Friday Day Rays this fall for the Esko high school football team.
By: Rick Weegman, Duluth News Tribune
Friday Night Lights will become Friday Day Rays this fall for the Esko high school football team.
And those fans who come to watch the Eskomos play in the afternoon sunshine might have to bring their own seats or stand the entire game.
Due to separate incidents in the offseason involving failing light structures and the condemnation of the wooden bleachers, there currently is no artificial lighting or seating at 40-year-old Les Knuti Field.
The Esko School Board takes up the situation tonight and is expected to pass a resolution to place a $2.7 million athletic fields referendum on the November ballot. The referendum would be for a new football/soccer field, including bleachers and lights, a running track, a ticket building, a storage building with locker rooms and upgrades to the softball and baseball fields.
A $6.7 million referendum, which included several of the same projects as this current referendum, failed by nearly a 2-to-1 margin in September 2009. But after the latest mishaps with the football stadium, a group of students, coaches and parents have expressed concerns and frustrations about the state of facilities to the board.
“After the (board) brought out the last (referendum) and it was soundly defeated 2-to-1, they were somewhat apprehensive to bring (a vote) back to the community,” Esko Superintendent Aaron Fischer said. “But after hearing from these groups, they decided to bring back a scaled-down (referendum) and see if the community will support it.”
The football team will play at 4 p.m. Fridays, with a possible option of relocating or bringing in portable lights for the home finale. Girls soccer games are expected to go on as scheduled.
“It’s going to be different, but we play (Duluth) Marshall and they always had an advantage by playing at 4 o’clock because other kids were used to playing at 7. Maybe we’ll have an advantage playing at 4,” Eskomos football coach Bill Hudspith said. “It could be a positive situation because all the kids will go right from school to the football game.”
Hudspith was a sophomore quarterback at Esko in 1972 when the original bleachers were installed. Prior to that, Esko played one season at Proctor’s field and also on a field behind the high school.
The years have taken their toll on the aging facility. Late last fall brackets attaching the lights to one of the poles detached and left the lights dangling by an electrical cable. A crew dispatched to repair the situation claimed it was a safety hazard to reattach the lights.
After it happened to another set of lights in the spring and both Minnesota Power and Musco Lighting Co. deemed the poles unsafe, a decision was made to cut down all four poles.
Later in the spring, H&B, a certification company from Eden Prairie, Minn., refused to certify the bleachers as safe. So did the Carlton County building inspector.
“We knew they weren’t doing well, but we didn’t anticipate that they wouldn’t pass inspection,” Fischer said.
A price quote for reconditioning the bleachers came to $300,000, while Fischer found that new bleachers could be installed for between $80,000-110,000. But that money was not available in the 2012-13 fiscal budget.
In addition, the press box/coaches booth was found to be rotting and unusable. Two custodians were able to tip the press box over.
“I’m not a building inspector, but that seemed to concur that something was not right,” Fischer said.
While the bleachers, press box and light poles were removed, other issues arose with the June flood. A loss of power meant the football scoreboard stopped functioning, the cinder track surrounding the field washed away, lime on the baseball field washed away and made it unplayable, a hockey warming house/football locker room was closed because of mold issues, the hockey association’s Zamboni was ruined and nearly $90,000 in equipment and machinery was lost in a water-damaged storeroom.
“I know the superintendent and the school board are concerned about it, but they don’t want to put Band-Aids on it,” Hudspith said. “Whatever they decide, they usually do it first-rate and do it right.”
Temporary fixes are in the works, however, until a more permanent solution is found. Three- and five-row risers from baseball and soccer games will be utilized on Fridays, power may be restored to the scoreboard and an announcer’s table might be set up on the field.
School officials are pursuing portable lighting options or playing at an alternate site for at least one late-season game, but otherwise the Eskomos will work things out the best they can.
“We’ve explored the option of renting other facilities, but the kids want to play on our field and play at home,” athletic director Chad Stoskopf said. “We want to make it as good of a situation as possible, but we’re up against it because it’s in rough shape and needs a lot of work. It’s going to be a unique feel at Esko this year, because for football and soccer it’s going to be a little more intimate.”