Looks like Chanhassen High has teammate to boost athletic complex

The Chaska School District might get $600,000 more for the new school's facilities by joining forces with the city of Chanhassen. Its residents would get use of the top-notch fields.

Chanhassen's new high school will be outfitted with top-notch athletic facilities, and the city of Chanhassen is looking to get in on the action.

By participating in a joint city-school project, the school district could get $600,000 from the city for upgrades to its athletic complex. In return, the city would gain use of the fields and football stadium.

The upgrades could allow the city to eventually field a town ball baseball team.

The Chanhassen City Council is expected to vote on the agreement Monday night.

"It was one of the goals of the Park and Recreation Commission to look at developing a field that could accommodate a town baseball team," said Chanhassen City Manager Todd Gerhardt. "When the school district approached the city saying they would like to upgrade the facilities at the high school, it just made sense that we look into potentially partnering with them."

The new Chanhassen High athletic complex will include soccer fields, baseball and softball diamonds, practice fields and a football stadium with artificial turf that can also accommodate lacrosse.

The city would contribute $600,000 for upgrades, such as dugouts, bleachers to accommodate spectators and upgraded turf grass, and in return would get to use those facilities for the next 30 years.

An evolving deal

In May, the council backed away from a similar deal, citing a lack of support from the city's Park and Recreation Commission and the public. At the time, the school district was offering the city the use of only the school's softball and baseball fields.

At a June 23 work session, Chaska School District Superintendent David Jennings upped the ante by including the use of the additional fields and the football stadium as part of the deal. As part of the offer, the city would get priority in scheduling those fields when they are not being used by the district.

"I think having the additional fields is a huge benefit," Gerhardt said. "We, like any growing suburb, always have more demands for recreational opportunities than what we can provide. Having those additional soccer, softball, football and lacrosse fields is going to help."

Mike Mattson, a Chanhassen resident and president of the Chaska Area Youth Baseball Association, was surprised when the partnership didn't get approved in May. Mattson said he and others had been occupied with their baseball seasons and thought the deal was going forward, so they didn't see the need to get involved and show further support.

"When we found out there wasn't support, we decided to get behind this," Mattson said. "Youth athletics are important to a community; it's an identity of a community. It's a place for a community to showcase who they are and what they are about."

Not everyone is happy about the proposed deal. Chanhassen resident Mark Senn lives in the Minnetonka School District portion of the city and wants to know why the school district didn't work the athletic facility improvements into its $96 million spending budget to build the school.

"Why should funds from the city of Chanhassen taxing authority, whose residents are split between the Chaska School District and the Minnetonka School District, go to benefit just the Chaska School District?" he said. He also criticized a proposal to allow alcohol sales on a permit basis at adult baseball and softball games.

Gerhardt said the new facilities will benefit everyone. Kids -- and adults -- who live in the Minnetonka School District can use the fields, too.

A city-school partnership is nothing new in the Chaska School District, said district Finance and Operations Director Steve Pumper. He said the Chaska School District has a history of partnering with cities on projects, such as the current joint agreement with the city of Victoria on the construction of a second sheet of ice at the Victoria Field House.

"It's another example of governmental units cooperating and working together to create something that will be enjoyed by a very broad audience," Pumper said. "Many residents don't care who owns the facility ... they just want access to facilities to enjoy their lifestyles."

Near a resolution

Mattson said he and the members of the Chaska Youth Association are hopeful the deal will finally get approved at Monday's council meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. at City Hall, 7700 Market Blvd.

The community support is already there, Mattson said.

"That's why we have elected officials at the city and park board levels -- to make decisions based on what the community feels," he said. And if they reject the proposal, they still would need to come up with an alternative -- another way "to find places to play baseball. That's all we're trying to do."

Aimee Blanchette • 612-673-1715

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