Should Hammer Complex get an upgrade to facilities?

Published 10:24 am Tuesday, June 3, 2014

By Hannah Dillon

Hammer Complex could be seeing some big upgrades in upcoming years, if there’s room for it in the budget.

The school board discussed these updates and more during a workshop Monday at Brookside Education Center.

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Albert Lea Area Schools Director of Facilities Steve Anderson and Activities Director Chris Chalmers presented these upgrades to the board.

Hammer Field, which became Jim Gustafson Field in 2012, was constructed in the 1960s and was designed to hold two football teams. Now, it is straining to fit four football teams and six soccer teams.

The entire sports complex, these days called Hammer Complex, has softball, soccer and track facilities, in addition to the football field.

Chalmers brought up many problems. The practice grounds have no irrigation system, which causes a safety risk to players. Jim Gustafson Field was designed to hold eight football games per year and now holds 16 football games and 20 soccer games per year. The track facilities need to be upgraded because Albert Lea is the only school that can’t host a Big Nine official meet. The football scoreboard is outdated. The softball field isn’t up to Title IX standards.

The list continued. Anderson presented a variety of different renovation options. The first, which would include everything from a new scoreboard, resurfaced track, asphalt parking lot, synthetic turf baseball and softball fields, new fieldhouse and other expenses would cost nearly $7 million.

The cheapest option, which would be just remodeling and adding on with no synthetic turf or asphalt parking lot, would be just over $4.6 million.

However, the school doesn’t have the funding for this project, said Finance Director Lori Volz. At least not right now. She said metro districts have the ability to ask for bonds for any improvement project, while districts like Albert Lea can only ask for bonds for certain things, and a Hammer Complex upgrade isn’t one of those things.

The Legislature will discuss revamping that system in their next session to give more schools this decision-making power. Superintendent Mike Funk also said a voter-approved referendum could be used to generate funds for the upgrade.