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High school sports facility enhancement is a go

A graphic of the outdoor facilities at the new Alexandria high school that will open in 2014 includes a synthetic turf field surrounded by a nine-lane track. Twelve tennis courts, two baseball fields, four softball fields and six multi-use fields will allow Alexandria to host multiple events at the same site on the same day. (Image provided by Cuninhgam Group)

First class, a wow factor - those are just a few of the phrases being used to describe the facilities that Alexandria athletes will have at their disposal in 2014.

When District 206 voters passed the bond referendum last September to build a new high school, they were already guaranteeing those athletes a better home. From there, a small group headed by Alexandria Activities Director David Hartmann asked what it would take to turn those better facilities into the best.

That has been the driving force behind an indoor and outdoor enhancement project that aims to make Alexandria one of the more popular destinations in central Minnesota for athletic and extra-curricular events year around.

"The reason I agreed to be a part of this from the beginning is it was all about the benefits to the community of Alexandria," former Cardinal Athletic Foundation president Craig Zwilling said. "There are some people who say we don't need the turf and more gym space. The high school kids themselves, perhaps not. But what the turf and the gym space will do is allow us to become that central location for the bigger events."

That is the vision this group has sold to the public as they have worked to raise the necessary funds to make it a reality. The enhancement project includes field turf at the new football field, which was originally estimated at around $600,000 to install.

Also included is additional gym space that could cost up to $362,000. Hartmann estimates that the overall cost for the indoor and outdoor enhancements will be closer to a $900,000 total once the final bids are in.

The added space will allow adequate seating on five courts within the gymnasium. That will allow Alexandria to host multiple events at the same time as well as school and youth tournaments year around.

The artificial surface will also improve the ongoing savings of maintaining the football field. No irrigation, mowing or fertilizing eliminates a lot of the cost for upkeep.

"It's going to be a great facility that's going to draw a lot of people," Hartmann said. "This community will be really proud of it. I think it will be a 'wow' for outside groups."

Hartmann can say that now after getting official approval to move forward with the project by the District 206 school board. The board had set a May 20 deadline for them to prove that the enhancements could become a reality.

They have done that by raising almost $700,000 in about six months. All of the money going toward these improvements is raised through grants and private donors.

Hartmann said they have seen outstanding support from businesses and individuals within the community. Rich Nodland, president of Nodland Construction in Alexandria, was a major contributor and will have the plaza around the football field named after him.

"The number of people and individuals who have contributed is pretty amazing," Hartmann said. "The soccer association, the football boosters, the Cardinal Athletic Foundation, the Nodland family, Sanford, Douglas County Hospital, Heartland Orthopedics Specialists. The Alexandria Hotels and Hospitality Association has stepped up big time. They see this as an opportunity to fill their hotels."

Getting people into town is ultimately what it comes down to, the group says. Hartmann is confident that the turf on the new football field will allow Alexandria to host section playoff games in both football and soccer. The new complex will also have a nine-lane track and 12 tennis courts.

That means more people coming through the gates. Currently around 13,000 fans enter Citizens Field every year. The group estimated that more than 35,000 fans would visit the new stadium with the addition of turf and all the added events they could host.

"I think it's really going to put us in position, with turf, with a nine-lane track, we're working on a USTA tennis grant for 12 tennis courts," Hartmann said. "All this will put us in position to be a very attractive site for hosting multiple events that will bring in people to our community."

The group will now focus on making the final push in order to meet its fundraising goals. Hartmann is confident some of that final cost will be covered through a handful of grants that they are still waiting to hear back on. The rest still has to be raised through private donors. Bottom line is that these enhancements will come to fruition.

In January, that was a bit of an unknown. Now almost seven months later, the Alexandria community can start imagining the final product.

"The fact that we're as close as we are in really five or six months, I think it's a pretty good accomplishment," Zwilling said. "Not so much on our part. It's an accomplishment for those folks who have agreed to donate. They are making this a reality. It's not us. It's easy to ask. It's a lot harder to agree and contribute."

MorkenEric Morken Eric Morken started as a sports reporter for the Echo Press on July 9, 2007. He is a graduate of Augustana College in Sioux Falls where he majored in journalism and minored in history and communications. In his spare time, Morken enjoys hunting and fishing or just being in the outdoors. He is also an avid Minnesota sports fan. Follow Sports Reporter Eric Morken on Twitter at @echo_sports. Read Eric's sports blog, More with Morken at Areavoices.

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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