Referendum for new Esko Athletic Complex to go before voters

This September, residents of the Esko School District will decide the fate of a $6,775,000 proposal to upgrade the school's athletic complex. A referendum vote is slated for Tuesday, Sept. 15, to determine if the project will move ahead with the ...

The layout of the proposed Esko Athletic Complex (at right) shows the planned configuration of fields and buildings. The areas that will be new or updated are shown in the darker shaded areas. The others will remain in the current form and location. A concession stand, located at the southeast corner of the football field/track complex, would contain boys and girls locker rooms, public restrooms, office space and a ticket station. The proposal will be put to a referendum vote Tuesday, Sept. 15. Voting...

This September, residents of the Esko School District will decide the fate of a $6,775,000 proposal to upgrade the school's athletic complex. A referendum vote is slated for Tuesday, Sept. 15, to determine if the project will move ahead with the purchase of 15-year general obligation bonds to finance the project.

At its June meeting, the Esko School Board gave its unanimous support to putting the proposal before district voters.

The proposal calls for construction of and/or upgrades to athletic fields at the current site along Canosia Road north of town, as well as a paved parking lot, a new bus garage, updated bleachers and a new concession building.

The idea for rebuilding the district's outdoor sports facilities is by no means a new one, according to Esko School Superintendent Aaron Fischer.

"The story goes back to 1987, when the school board first looked at redoing the track, which was built around 1971," explained Fischer. "The track has a cinder block surface, which isn't used by athletes anymore. I believe the last actual competition that was run on cinder block was around the mid-1980s. Running on a cinder versus a hard surface isn't even good for training purposes."


Fischer said the idea never really got anywhere for a number of reasons, but it began to get more serious attention six years ago when community members formed a facilities group and eventually put together a master plan that called for redoing everything in the complex. When it was put out for quotes, it came in at $14.5 million, which the board said was too expensive.

"What the school board then said to me was to come up with another plan that was more workable," said Fischer.

District administrators then went through a process of interviewing firms, eventually settling on Larson Engineering of White Bear Lake, Minn., who proposed to work on the project with SGN Architects.

"Larson Engineer-ing basically does athletic fields, which is their specialty," said Fischer, "and since most of this work involves dirt work, without a lot of building, we decided to go with an engineering firm as our general contractor."

Larson Engineering did a redesign of the original plan and came up with a final price tag of $6.7 million.

"In the other plan, nothing stayed where it was, but in the new plan, some of the fields would stay in their existing spots," said Fischer, "bringing down costs significantly. At that point, the board was willing to go ahead with it."

Under the proposed plan, the Esko athletic complex would include a new football/soccer field with artificial turf and circled by a new track with polyurethane surface; venues for additional track events such as long/triple jump, pole vault, discus and shot put; new handicapped-accessible bleachers; upgrades to the current softball and baseball fields; the construction of one new softball field and a renovated youth soccer field.

"We're basically proposing to enhance every outdoor sport that Esko currently hosts," said Fischer.


The existing hockey rink and shelter as well as the skate park will remain the same.

The proposal also calls for a new bus garage to accommodate the larger buses being added to the line, as well as office space for the transportation director; a concessions building that would include public restrooms, locker rooms, office space and a ticket counter; and a 300-space, paved parking lot.

"The current parking lot is all clay and lying on top of a peat bog," said Fischer, "so it's almost impassable every spring when the frost goes out."

Fischer said a big part of the proposed project would involve dirt work, since the current complex lies on wetlands and peat bog.

"To do this right, we would have to take out about three feet of peat bog and bring in a coarse subsurface to add another two feet on top," said Fischer. "The clay is just terrible for frost and will break up a track, so a huge part of this project is taking dirt out and replacing it with a sandy, coarse material that will endure."

Fischer is currently preparing an informational brochure that will go out to all district residents within the next couple of weeks to explain the project and its impact on tax payers.

For example, the residential homestead tax impact of the referendum, if passed, would be an additional $44 per year for a $100,000 home or $131 per year for a $150,000 home.

Fischer said if the referendum passes, the general obligation bonds will overlap for a period of time with the amount levied for the school facilities project completed in 1996.


"I want the voters to get information so they can debate it at Eskomo Pizza Pie, or the Lions Club or around the dinner table at home to decide if this is what they want," said Fischer. "This has to be something they value and want to do."

A group called the Sports Alliance, comprised of local parents, teachers, athletes and interested residents, was formed a couple of years ago and is one of the primary groups supporting the project.

If the referendum passes, Fischer said the final bid specs would be drawn up in time for the project to go out for bids in December and added he is optimistic about the bidding climate at the current time.

The contractors would then break ground as soon as the frost goes out and the road restrictions are lifted next spring, with only minor impacts on the spring sports programs. Fischer said the engineers indicated the new football field would be playable by the 2010 fall season, with an eye toward completing the balance of the project before winter.

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