Emma Schluter, a captain next year on Minneapolis South High School’s soccer team, has to keep her mind on more than the match when she plays at home on Barnard Field.
There are water drains, long jump and pole vault runways that crowd near the pitch, and concrete pads that lie just 15 inches off the side line, threatening to send Schluter and her cleat-clad teammates skidding.
“When you’re playing, you have to be aware of all these outside safety issues,” she said recently.
Schluter joined parents and alumni who called a meeting with Superintendent Ed Graff, the school board and other district officials in October to call for fixes at the deteriorating facilities. She followed that up by giving Graff a personal tour of the field.
But Schluter, a junior who also runs track, may be out of high school and college by the time the athletic field, rated by a consultant as the worst among the seven Minneapolis high schools, gets all its recommended improvements.
The total cost of rehabbing South’s outdoor athletic facilities to a par with most other district high schools is estimated at $2.45 million.
The school board voted this week to seek a $300,000 Hennepin County youth sports grant for field improvements, and pledged a $500,000 match. But that still leaves the first step toward field improvement, installing artificial turf, $400,000 short with no outside funding secured.
The board also approved seeking an identical county grant for North, the next-worst field. South counts 887 field sport participants, 12 times that of smaller North.
‘Might as well be concrete’
Supporters have been trying for years to fix up South’s facilities.
South alumni helped put forward a revamped field plan years ago, only to see it stall after they helped finance and build a building for tickets, concession and storage. Some parents worry the poor facilities are costing South talented athletes who opt to enroll elsewhere.
Track coach Mark Gross has been fighting for a better oval since he started coaching there in 2005.
“Back then, that track needed to be resurfaced,” he said. Now it’s worse. “Whatever track’s there, it might as well be concrete.”
That’s bad news, given that teens are notoriously vulnerable to shin splints, which are exacerbated by hard surfaces.
“I’m a year-round athlete. I don’t really have time for injuries,” Schluter said.
South has no home track meets. In addition to the track’s poor condition, it lacks a timing system and it’s only six lanes wide compared to the eight lanes at most schools.
“My friends have never seen me run,” Schluter said.
Meanwhile, South has never had a night homecoming game at Barnard Field because it lacks lights. There’s no press box for shooting game video. One video cameraman for a visiting school accidentally got stranded and left behind on the school roof several years ago.
South activists also said they’ve been frustrated by communication with the school district.
A year ago, after the district bought a quarter-block site on nearby Lake Street, a district official said the purpose was to expand adjacent properties, including South and the district fieldhouse, and to consider building a new school for adult basic education programs and older special education students.
South fans said they were stunned to be told this fall that their facility needs wouldn’t be incorporated there.
The district told them it’s important for the adult and special education programs to be on good bus service, but parents ask why they didn’t have input on the decision — and when South’s needs will be addressed.
The school district declined to make its facilities officials available to respond to questions for this report.
Graff told parents at an Oct. 26 meeting that he’s planning to launch a new five-year capital planning process early next year. He apologized for a lack of communication and said that if there are safety issues, they should be addressed, but said parents need to wait for the new planning process to give input.
But Schluter will be long gone by the time any improvements happen. So she will play next season on a field with grassless patches and divots that make the game much different from playing on a field with even grass or artificial turf.
“We don’t feel safe playing on it,” she said. “We don’t feel proud of where we’re from.”