Construction of fields and stadium delayed

Andy Lesser

After two years of laborious planning and months of promotion by the Benilde-St. Margaret’s administration, new athletic fields will not be built this year, for many obstacles have hindered the process.

One of the school’s main problems has been with funding.   “It’s challenging,” said BSM President Dr. Bob Tift, “if you talk to any school or nonprofit agency it’s difficult to make money right now.  There are a lot of people who want to support this and are willing to support this, but “this is not the right time.”

Despite the nation’s dreary economic climate, the McQuinn family has offered a matching donation that could account for $2 million of the project, only if the school can find more donors to provide the other $2 million dollars needed to fund the fields.

The administration’s ambitious plan includes building a new football/soccer stadium closer to the school than the current one –– the current stadium will be left as it is, but will not be used for premier events.  In addition, the current varsity baseball field will be cut down to the size of a softball field, creating room to build a new baseball field behind the theater, much closer to the school.  A small practice field will be placed south of the main stadium as well.

If the plans are enacted, Benilde- St. Margaret’s will have four brand new fields and five total for games and practices, vastly increasing the size and quality of the facilities.   Such is welcome news to Athletic Director Jerry Pettinger.  “In 1996, 17 teams used the fields,” said Mr. Pettinger; “today, we have 36.”  Along with wearing down the fields’ conditions, the influx of students cramming into the current space “makes it hard to practice and hard to schedule games,” he said.

BSM President Dr. Bob Tift echoed Mr. Pettinger’s strong wish for new facilities.  “The one thing alumni and other visitors come up to me about is the fields,” he said; the new plans would presumably quell their concerns.

BSM’s neighbors have different concerns, however, for in January, the St. Louis Park City Council approved of the administration’s plans 6-1, against the neighbors’ adamant opposition.  They are worried about various issues, including water purity, noise level, tree loss, light, flooding, vulgar pre-game music, law enforcement, wetland removal, and most of all, respect.  Among the neighbors’ criticisms during the January 20 City Council hearing were that BSM does not listen to their concerns and that they disregard the law, prompting one neighbor to say, “BSM needs to apply to the law, and they currently don’t comply.”

Dr. Tift defended BSM in this regard; “ We’re trying to be real transparent,” he said, “we’re showing them exactly what we’re doing.”  He also added, “we have concerns with them too… it’s a two-way street.”

Despite the City Council’s initial approval of the plans, BSM cannot go through with them.  Since the school resides around wetlands, the administration has to worry about wetland displacement as well as water storage and drainage.  The original plans called for storing water under the parking lot, but legal and financial issues caused the administration to add holding ponds to their plans in place of underground storage.

The change is drastic enough that BSM has to go through the entire process all over again.  School president Dr. Bob Tift and other school advisers will go back to the St. Louis Park City Council on May 4.  Therefore, according to Dr. Tift, in an ideal world, the soonest the fields can be ready is “the fall of 2010.”