GRAND RAPIDS — Like it says in its literature, the newly-formed Noble Hall Improvement Project Committee (NHIPC) knows turfing Noble Hall Field does not solve the Grand Rapids High School field/green space issue, but NHIPC members say it is a great start.

The NHIPC said a fund-raising effort to raise $1.3 million to complete the project is underway and that things are looking good. The money total includes earthwork, turf installation and engineering and testing and fees. The NHIPC has begun fund-raising efforts with the goal to minimize any effect on local taxes.

“The fields in Grand Rapids are basically being worn out,” said Tom Saxhaug, a member of the committee. “That’s because we have so many kids, but mainly we have so many teams plus the band. The band has won many championships over 30 years all over the Midwest and they are still in a parking lot which is at an angle which is only half the size of a football field.

“They aren’t a marching band that goes up and down the street; they are a performance band, a field band that performs on the field.”

However, Saxhaug said the band can’t practice on Noble Hall Field because of the damage it creates. He said the main premise of the project is changing the football field into an all-purpose field.

“We are talking about using this field seven months out of the year instead of slightly more than two,” Saxhaug said.

Mindy Elkington Nuhring, also a member of the committee, said a bond referendum to improve athletic facilities in Grand Rapids and Bigfork did not pass in April 2018. Thus, she said the issues of facility improvement still remains.

“In that vote, it did pass in the four Grand Rapids proper precincts,” Elkington Nuhring said. “There were people that were for it and a lot of people who went out to vote were probably interested in the athletic part of it. So, we have decided to start with the smallest denominator, what is the minimum we can do and what is the minimum cost that we can do. That’s how we came up with trying to turf one field.”

Saxhaug said it is hoped that everything is in place so that the school district can send out bids by December. Work would then begin in May following the spring high school sports season so use can begin by July 2020, when Band Camp is conducted.

“Certainly, in 2020 the football and soccer teams will be playing there,” Saxhaug said.

Greg Spahn, head football coach at Grand Rapids High School, said returfing the field would be great for the community, and it would give every child a place to play almost all year around.

“We are not just talking football, we are not just talking band, but it is every sport,” said Spahn. “I think it would have an incredible impact on the community, an incredible impact on our kids. I think there are uses for the field that you wouldn’t even think of and really, it would be a good start.

“I am confident that it is going to get done with the support of the community and the school board.”

As for the football aspect, Spahn said the returfing would make field conditions consistent and there would be no worries such as stepping in a hole and turning an ankle.

“If it is raining the field is not slick at all,” said Spahn. “If you look at our area, there are many turf fields around and it is quickly becoming a standard. To be honest, those communities are providing opportunities for the kids that our kids are missing out on.”

According to NHIPC literature, there is just one performance field and one practice field at Grand Rapids High school to accommodate 13 high school-sponsored sports/activities serving about 685 students. This means high school sports and the band need to find space, which means they compete for field space with middle school students at Robert J. Elkington Middle School, or they use leased fields in Grand Rapids and Cohasset.

Some facts presented in the NHIPC include:

*Due primarily to overuse, the GRHS football practice/lacrosse performance field has failed and now needs four to 12 months to recover and will require a less intense schedule in the future. Failure of a field means an uneven/inconsistent/unsafe playing surface; part of field is hard and part is soft; potholes; sprinkler heads become exposed.

*At current usage, which is 30 to 40 uses, Noble Hall Field is failing yearly and will continue to fail. Currently, there are no uses allowed on it from about late October until mid-August (nine dormant months).

*The Conifer Field (city-owned), City Sports Complex, Portage Park and RJE Middle School North fields are at maximum use and cost users for lease and maintenance (e.g. striping).

*Natural turf fields (i.e. grass) have a maximum usage amount based on weather, activity, age and size of participants. Overuse kills the field.

*Currently there are morning band practice on Noble Hall Field. Band practice/performance is very hard on natural turf fields due to repetitive marching in the same places over and over. This compacts soil and damages the grass. July band camp is held for a week on the Deer River High School football field because of GRHS field issues. The majority of the band practice is at the Reif Center parking lot. An undersized parking lot is not a safe or an adequate place to train a national caliber marching band and to remain in the parking lot, additional safety measures will be needed and it will still not be adequate in size.

*Every school year, GRHS students will need to drive off campus more than 200 times for practices or home games in Grand Rapids and surrounding communities.

*By turfing Noble Hall Field, its use can be increased by at least six times the previous total. As an example, Brainerd High School went from 24 uses to 224 with turf. Esko has increased its field uses to 200-plus times a year.

*Noble Hall Field currently serves about 138 athletes. With turf, the field would serve 445 athletes, 240 band students, and about 350 physical education students for a total of 1,035 students. It would serve 1,035 students versus 138. This number does not reflect community uses during the summer or additional rental opportunities.

*The number of schools up north that have turf fields include Brainerd, Bemidji, Duluth East, Duluth Denfeld, Esko, Proctor, Mt. Iron-Buhl, Superior, and Mesabi East, Virginia and Eveleth are currently adding turf fields.

In summary, according to the NHIPC, by turfing Noble Hall Field, it would go from 2.5 months of use to seven months of use, from 30 to 40 uses to more than 240 uses and from servicing about 138 students to serving more than 1,000.

Fund-raising is currently underway in raising the $1.3 million. Saxhaug said a group of people led by Dale Rasmussen started a fund at the Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation four or five years ago to upgrade athletic facilities. The board of directors at the foundation agreed to use the funds as part of the project which totals $5,000 thanks to Bill Reif. That money will be used for expenses.

Saxhaug said L & M Supply has agreed to donate $100,000 toward the project. In addition, if the committee can come up with enough money to complete the project, the school district will give up to $600,000 towards the project.

“We would rather have enough donations so (school district) would not have to give very much money,” added Elkington Nuhring. “We have also applied for grants, and we would like to get some more bigger donors and there may be a community fund-raising event by the end of the summer.”

Those interested in donating toward the Noble Hall Field returfing can send checks to: Noble Hall Field Improvement Fund, c/o Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation, Grand Rapids, MN 55744. A FaceBook page also will be available to get more information or people can email tomsax8163@gmail.com.

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