Editorial: Ed Widseth Field lease worth exploring

Mike Christopherson
Crookston Times

    One reader said “the devil’s in the details.” Another said he’d “like to see the fine print.”

    Both comments, in response to news last week that University of Minnesota Crookston Chancellor Mary Holz-Clause had approached Crookston School District Superintendent Jeremy Olson with an offer of a 20-year lease for Pirate football and, yes, even track and field to use Ed Widseth Field on campus, are on the mark. There are many details to hash through, some of which could derail a deal, and fine print is typically tiny for reason.

    But, that said, the chancellor’s offer is worth exploring. Certainly, Olson and the Crookston School Board could eventually say no thanks and continue toward a November 2021 referendum in the hope of getting voter and taxpayer support to build a new football and track and field facility at CHS. But it’s nice to have another option that, at least comparing the up-front cost of constructing a new facility at CHS, is significantly more affordable.

    Here are some questions that can spur some discussions.

    • If any deal stipulates that the school district would have to upgrade the track so the Pirates can once again host meets, can someone explain what happened to the track in the first place? There’s a belief among some that all of the damage to its surface was inflicted years ago by UMN Crookston heavy equipment while removing snow. Did that equipment actually damage a part or parts of the track? It seems there had to be other issues, too; anyone who looked at the track while watching a football game or walked it after state prep officials deemed it no longer suitable for competition saw a surface no doubt damaged by snow and frost and general exposure to the elements.

    • Would much more blue and gold paint and Pirate logos be allowed at Ed Widseth Field? Having the Pirates compete at a “home” field that actually features school colors is a big deal to some people. They’d love to see people driving by on U.S. Highway 2 glance to the east and see the press box painted dark blue with a couple of large Pirate logos on it.

    • How strongly do people (i.e. school district voters) really feel about the Pirates having a place to call their own, versus continuing to be on the UMN Crookston campus and paying rent to use Ed Widseth Field? Someone said the school district needs to get out from under “UMC’s thumb.” Is this feeling widespread?

    • Will the state even allow the school district to spend significant sums of money for facility-related projects, like a new track, on someone else’s property? Does the district have enough money in its “lease levy” to cover rental payments to use Ed Widseth Field?

    Holz-Clause’s offer makes sense. The optics don’t look great when you have such a high-profile, visible facility on campus not getting used. Someone wondered before this offer was made if the University might construct some kind of building or facility one of these years where Ed Widseth Field currently sits. That might happen someday, but three beautiful student residence halls and, the latest, a gorgeous wellness center, have already been constructed in recent years on campus; it doesn’t seem likely that anything new is going to be constructed on campus anytime soon. Boosting enrollment and, as a result, precious tuition revenue, needs to be priority #1, not to mention priority #2, #3, #4 and #5.

    There’s another wildcard to consider here, too. The natural grass surface at Ed Widseth Field has come under fire during recent Pirates and Golden Eagles football seasons for becoming a sloppy mess as a result of two teams playing weekly on the field after it’s been deluged by heavy rains. It’s resulted in both the Pirates and Golden Eagles having to play several “home” games in Grand Forks, for the Pirates, even playoff games. Before nixing its football program, UMN Crookston was going to launch a fundraising effort to install field turf at Ed Widseth Field, but that effort was not surprisingly scrapped.

    Any new facility at CHS would have field turf. That’s the future. Does the school district want two more decades’ worth of potential headaches with the condition of the natural grass at Ed Widseth Field? If the answer is no, that district leaders want the Pirates playing football on field turf, then maybe building something new on school district property is the best route.

    But, for now, consider the conversation started. Let’s see where it goes.

Mike Christopherson, Crookston Times managing editor