Dillabough suggests a multi-phase project on CHS property

    “It’s a shame and an embarrassment to have a track like this.”

    Those words by Crookston School Board Member Dave Davidson on Tuesday seemed to sum up his colleagues’ general feelings, after the board and Superintendent Chris Bates saw a picture-laden presentation by Pirate Boys’ Track and Field Coach Wayne Folkers and Activities Director Greg Garmen detailing the current state of disrepair the track and field complex at UMC’s Ed Widseth Field is in.

    After discussing the situation at length, Board Chair Frank Fee said that U of M Crookston officials need to be sought out to continue the discussion, and the board directed Folkers and Garmen to pursue cost estimates to simply fill and repair the current cracks and any other deficiencies in order to make the track deemed suitable and safe once again by Region 8A officials. Crookston four years ago was awarded the Section 8 track meet for the next five years, but has not been able to host the meet because the track was deemed not suitable for competition. This spring, the Pirate track and field teams were not able to host regular home meets for the same reason, and had to “host” them in East Grand Forks.

    The school district and UMC have an agreement in place to jointly use the Ed Widseth Field football field and track and field complex and share in various repair and improvement projects. But with UMC not having a track and field program, there’s an obvious hesitancy on campus and likely at the U of M in the Twin Cities to invest in significant upgrades to the track and field facility.

    Pirate track and field athletes have been using the Ed Widseth complex since the early 1980s. According to Garmen, the track was resurfaced in 1996 and again in 2005.

    Dozens of photos shown via PowerPoint to the board Tuesday showed cracks that were previously repaired reopened and growing, and new cracks forming. Two running lanes, lane 1 and lane 8 are especially uneven, and there are portions of the surface near the long jump and high jump approaches that can be peeled up like carpet. There are spots in the asphalt underneath the surface that have deteriorated into a fine powder, Garmen noted. The inside track apron is “settling” into the football field, too, he said.

    Contrary to “popular opinion,” Garmen said that school district and UMC representatives have a good partnership when it comes to Ed Widseth Field. When issues have arisen, UMC, specifically Athletic Director Steph Helgeson and Assistant Athletic Director Kamille Meyer, have been especially helpful, Garmen noted. But, he and others acknowledged Tuesday, the future of the track and field complex is a matter that goes beyond Helgeson and Meyer, and likely beyond UMC Chancellor Mary Holz-Clause, and all the way to the Twin Cities campus and the U of M Board of Regents.

    Garmen said experts are recommending a full “geotechnical survey” that digs down deep below the track and goes well beyond simply collecting soil borings. Water and a lack of significant drainage is an obvious culprit, he said, noting that piled up snow in the winter and the spring melt has been especially hard on the track surface.

    School district voters last year soundly rejected a three-question ballot issue, with one of the proposed projects being a new football and track and field complex on CHS property. The concern, Fee said, continues to be the possibility that the school district invests significant dollars in a major track and field upgrade at UMC, and then in the coming years UMC puts turf on the football field and as part of that project makes the field large enough to host UMC women’s soccer games as well.

    When Fee mentioned the potential option available of eliminating the Pirate track and field program, something he said he obviously would never want to do, Davidson said that option should immediately be removed from consideration. (In a typical year, 80 to 100 student-athletes compete on the boys’ and girls’ track and field teams, making it the largest Pirate sport in terms of participation.)

    So that leaves simple fixes to “get a few more years” out of the current track and field facility, exploring a new track and field facility on the UMC property, or possibly phasing in a project on CHS property, with the track coming first, and maybe a football field coming later. The latter option was proposed Tuesday by board member Patty Dillabough.

    “I would love to see our own facility (at CHS), that’s my first choice,” Folkers said. “If that doesn’t work, then we need to work with UMC and get this taken care of.”