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AAHS facilities come to life

A view from near midfield shows the giant red “A” that sits on the 50-yard line with the home bleachers and press box in the background. The home bleachers seat around 2,500 with an additional 1,000 on the visitors’ side of the field. (Eric Morken/Echo Press)

Having the opportunity and the backing of a community to build a new high school doesn’t come around often, so when it does there is a sense of urgency to get the project right.

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That was the focus of those involved with bringing the Alexandria Area High School (AAHS) to life after the bond to build the new school was passed through a referendum in the fall of 2011. On the education side, that meant a modern campus that meets the needs of a 21st century education and the ability to adapt as technology changes.

On the athletic side, it meant bringing almost every activity together onto one campus and making Alexandria a destination that would allow the city to host statewide events in many sports.

“I researched this for 10 years,” Activities Director Dr. David Hartmann said. “I really feel like we have the best utilization of space, the best utilization of our facilities. When it wasn’t quite right we said, ‘Well, what does it take?’ Some districts would say, ‘No, this is what you get,’ where our district was open to saying, ‘OK, see what you can do.”

That would not have been possible without help from the community. In excess of $7 million was raised to help make the new facilities even better in addition to the $65.15 million that voters agreed to pay by approving the bond referendum on September 27, 2011.

A group that was led by Hartmann, John Heydt, Nick Heydt, Craig Zwilling, Tim Bush and Carl Wittenburg were a part of that as they rallied to fundraise an additional $800,000 for athletics through a facilities enhancement project. That money made field turf a reality on the football and soccer field. It added space in the gymnasiums and helped in the process of getting a 12-court tennis facility.

“I just think this community is very giving, very open to doing the best we can for our kids,” Hartmann said. “We’ve kind of been a model for other schools. They keep asking, ‘What are you doing? How are you doing it?’ I think it’s been a reflection on our community and how supportive they are.”

One of the selling points during the fundraising process for the athletic complex was centered on what first-class facilities could mean for the city. Hartmann said the new high school is scheduled to host section and state quarterfinal football games this fall, as well as boys’ and girls’ section soccer games. He’s already taken calls inquiring about hosting three different basketball tournaments in the gym.

“I think there’s really going to be a great economic boost for our community,” Hartmann said. “People are going to come in and buy gas, stay at hotels and buy food and go to restaurants. It’s going to have a significant financial impact on our community.”

The new wave of technology is evident all over in the athletic facilities. Volleyball nets and wrestling mats hang from the ceiling in the gymnasiums and can be lowered and set up with the touch of a button. The lights in the stadium can be turned on and off through a cell phone.

Hudl, which is video software that allows athletes and coaches to easily share and watch themselves and their opponents on computers, phones and tablets, has been purchased. Touch-screen kiosks will allow the public to go back in history and look at digital images of trophies, teams and every yearbook from the most recent one dating back to 1919.

“Every time we turned around we said, ‘How can we better use technology?’” Hartmann said. “From the Hudl to all the different things we’re doing, it’s going to be a significant change in how we operate and how we do business.”

The first high school game played at the new complex will take place on August 21 with a boys’ and girls’ soccer doubleheader. The opening football game is against Moorhead on August 29. There’s work to be done between now and then, but a construction project almost two years in the making is almost ready to be unveiled.

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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