Bates: University has been fair and reasonable over the years

    The Crookston School Board on Monday approved a new, three-year lease agreement with the University of Minnesota Crookston so the school district can utilize the campus’ Ed Widseth football field and track complex.

    Before unanimously approving the new deal, a longtime source of frustration, the condition of the track, was brought up once again, this time by board member Dave Davidson. Even through three years ago Crookston was awarded the next five Section 8A track meets, the meet has been held elsewhere for the first three years of the five-year period because the Minnesota State High School League has deemed the condition of the track unfit for the meet.

    “Those section meets are a big deal, they bring a lot of people here and they’re a lot of fun,” Davidson said. “They were ours to have for five years, and we haven’t had any.”

    Even though the lease agreement between the school district and UMC for many years has included detailed language and cost-sharing percentages for repair, maintenance and improvement projects at Ed Widseth Field, Superintendent Chris Bates stressed Monday that because UMC does not have a men’s or women’s track and field program, the university has no interest and will continue to have no interest in investing a lot of money in needed improvements to the track surface.

    “They’re not interested,” Bates said. “Before they come to us with an expense, they’ve got to want to spend that money to begin with, and, frankly, (improving the track) is not on their shopping list.”

    Board Chair Frank Fee said school district Activities Director Greg Garmen is currently working with a firm that’s taking some soil borings at the track complex, an early step that could later on result in some improvements made to the track surface that the school district would, one could assume, finance on its own. While there’s “basis of use” language included in the lease agreement when expenses are considered and shared by the two entities, Fee said that UMC only uses the track surface when its football players walk across it wearing their cleats.

    The new agreement includes a stipulation that if any expense arises that costs more than $5,000 and will potentially be shared by the two participating entities, the school district will be notified before the expense is undertaken, and will have an opportunity to respond to the proposed expense.

    Fee wondered what would happen if UMC decided it was going to make major improvements to the football field and complex on campus, and the school district was faced with the possibility of having to cover some of those costs, even if they approached seven figures in scope. “Are we going to put a million dollars of our money into their property out there?” he asked. “What would they do if we said no?”

    Bates said the board would likely have some time in such an instance to consider its options. And, he added, the university has always been fair in their dealings with the district in his years as superintendent.

    “When it comes to divvying up usages and shared costs and percentages, they’ve been pretty good with being up-front with us on those divisions,” Bates said. He added that a clause in the agreement gives either party the option of opting out, with 60 days notice. “If some big project came up that we didn’t want to be a part of, (opting out of the lease) would be an option,” the superintendent explained.

    The new agreement comes on the heels of the Pirates’ home football victory over Bagley last week, a game that had to be continued until the next day, completed at Drechsel Field at Crookston High School, because of a circuit box malfunction at Ed Widseth Field that led to a power outage with around six minutes left in the game, which the Pirates won 40-18.

    CHS students were excused to watch the final six minutes of the game outside the high school last Wednesday morning. “It was a pretty good scene out there for six minutes, with the kids lined up watching the rest of the game,” Fee said.

    Fee led the board’s push earlier this year for the approval of a trio of facilities-related ballot questions, all of which were defeated by a majority of district voters, in convincing fashion. One question sought the construction of a football and track complex on CHS property.

    Speaking on the relationship between UMC and the school district regarding shared use of Ed Widseth Field, Fee said “there’s nothing (UMC) has done” to put the school district in its current situation. “This is where we are,” Fee said. “Our residents overwhelmingly told us ‘You’re going to play football at UMC and that’s what you’re going to do.’”

    Bates said the agreement is “inherently fair.”

    “I don’t think what we’re paying is necessarily unreasonable,” he said. “We don’t have our own field. We don’t cut (the grass), we don’t stripe it. They’ve been fair.”