It’s not uncommon to hear about Shakopee students open-enrolling at schools in other districts simply because there are better sports opportunities elsewhere, said school board member Matt McKeand.
“People feel that other communities have more amenities,” he said.
Despite a booming youth population, however, the community has been unwilling to pay for new sports facilities, including expansion of the Shakopee Community Center. Three referendums that proposed creating new recreational facilities, including a pool and another ice rink, have failed since 1999.
The bottom line: Lots of Shakopee residents want more — and better — places to play sports, but picking up the tab is something else entirely.
To address the problem, the city and the school district recently formed a joint task force to discuss their biggest needs — and options to pay for projects.
McKeand called the situation challenging, but says the joint task force makes sense since the city and district share almost the same tax base.
In part, the task force was also formed to figure out what kinds of facilities were needed after the district’s referendum, which would have built a second high school, failed this spring, said Jamie Polley, parks, recreation and natural resources director.
A goal is to determine the district’s immediate needs, Polley said, whether they put another referendum on the ballot soon or not.
The second sheet of ice is at the top of pretty much everyone’s wish list, said Polley, and has been for more than a decade. There is just one rink at the Shakopee Ice Arena, adjacent to the Community Center.
Polley also mentioned a need for more space to play field sports, from lacrosse and baseball to soccer and football. That could include artificial turf fields or an indoor facility, she said.
City Council and task force member Kathi Mocol said at the city level, she hears about the need for a new pool as often as she hears about the ice rink.
And the Shakopee district recently joined the South Suburban Conference, which includes gymnastics as a competitive sport. But the district currently doesn’t have any teams, because that “would require dedicated gym space” they don’t have, McKeand said.
Youth sports boom
Shakopee’s population has grown rapidly in the last decade. With the overall growth has come a large number of school-age kids, McKeand said. “Across the board, our youth sports are growing commensurately.”
“For the amount of people that are in Shakopee, I think we’re lacking [in sports facilities],” said Mocol.
Playing sports, Polley added, “is a big part of the community,” and there are 11 youth sports associations. The youth hockey association has 600 kids, and three or four new teams will be added this year, Polley said.
But there’s just one ice rink at the Community Center, and the men’s and women’s high school teams use it after school until 7:45 p.m. during the season.
That means there’s little time for youth teams to have a turn, let alone private rentals or skating lessons. Youth skate from until 10 or 11 p.m. in the winter, and buy ice time at a private facility in Prior Lake to supplement, she said.
McKeand’s two kids play soccer, along with 1,000 other kids in the youth association, he said. While the city has an outdoor soccer complex, having a dome or turf fields would mean kids could “get out there sooner” in the season, McKeand said.
Plans for both another sheet of ice — which would probably cost about $8 million — and a pool addition to the Community Center already exist, having been drawn up as part of the previous referendums.
The joint task force has only met once, but will meet next week to tour the Ice Arena, along with the entire school board.
The task force is looking for public input on everything from funding to what should be prioritized, McKeand said.
Upcoming meetings will focus on possible financing options for different projects, as well as getting concrete cost estimates for each, he said.
The task force wants to see if there are ways the district and the city can work together to fund the facilities, Polley said.
Mocol said a creative combination of city, district and fundraising money may be the answer.
The Shakopee Tennis Association recently presented the City Council plans for a new indoor tennis center, which it plans to fund entirely by donations. But fundraising hasn’t begun yet.
McKeand said that this early in the process, the task force is “open to any and all” funding ideas. “ ‘Within the law’ is our guideline now,” he said.