OPINION

Times Editorial: If we’re going to do this, we need to do it up right

Mike Christopherson
Crookston Times

    One of Crookston School District Superintendent Jeremy Olson’s ongoing goals is to oversee a feasible, common-sense budget. In his tenure here, he’s received high marks from the school board in the area of finances on the board’s periodic evaluations of his performance.

    Given the importance placed on wise, strategic spending, it’s no surprise that as the focus has shifted away from UMN Crookston’s Ed Widseth Field as a long-term home for Pirate football and track and field – the latter of which hasn’t been able to compete there for years because of the track’s substandard condition – and toward a home site for football and track and field at Crookston High School, Olson has made remarks indicating the importance in his mind of approaching the project in a frugal manner.

    Olson has said previously that among his chief concerns is a whole bunch of community input resulting in a whole bunch of things being added to the project and, in the process, causing the price tag to balloon.

    A large public planning committee with around 25 people held its first sit-down last week to begin discussing what the project that would go to district voters later this year might eventually look like. The committee members made all kinds of great remarks, among them things of the more warm-and-fuzzy variety about “Pirate pride” and similar things you can’t put a price on. But perhaps some of the most notable and impactful remarks were made by business owners who benefit directly when Pirate pride mushrooms in the community because our student-athletes have quality facilities to call their own.

    But there were also things suggested that could heighten Olson’s uneasiness over budget-busting add-ons.

    However, the thinking here is that the community and the school district, working together, have one chance to get this right. And going on the cheap by leaving out various amenities in the name of minimizing the financial impact on district property owners is going to frustrate more than it boosts pride in the years to come.

    The facility needs artificial turf that could potentially have users beyond Crookston teams and students that pay fee to utilize it. It needs a great track. It needs quality concessions, restrooms and excellent lighting. It needs adequate seating that doesn’t leave some fans wanting for more, while also not making the place look half-empty even when there’s a decent crowd on hand. As a whole, the entire facility needs to ooze Pirate pride and leave a positive impression on those who come.

    But, also, this is not a “build it and they will come” situation. It’s becoming well-documented that Crookston and many towns like it in the region are lacking when it comes to attracting families with school-aged kids. Crookston perhaps struggles more than most in this area, but it’s for a variety of reasons – a lack of child care, obviously – and the lack of a dedicated home for Pirate football and track and field is likely not high on the list of things that keep families from choosing to call Crookston home. The fact is that times have changed. There are more sports programs and activities to choose from now and Pirate rosters are spread thin. Just think about it, the last time Pirate football and track and field had their own home, on Lincoln School property, many K-12 class/grade sizes were about double the size of what they are now. Double!

    School district voters would appear to have the stomach to help fund a nice project here. State legislation means that the tax impact on the farm community is a fraction of what it once was, and then there’s the fact that people seem to like the job Olson is doing. Before he got here, they soundly rejected a trio of ballot questions, including one seeking a new bus garage and another seeking a new Pirate football and track and field facility. Voters have since approved with enthusiasm a new bus garage, and this is the next great need worthy of support.