Community Strongly Voices Support to Preserve Clark Field During District Input Session
ST. CLOUD - Emotions ran high as over 100 people came out in force to voice their opposition to putting a building on Clark Field.
The district held an community input session on Tuesday night about the future of the site.
The St. Cloud school district has a plan to put in a $25 million building on the field for early childhood education, community education, adult basic education, the district welcome center, media services and the administrative offices.
Those in attendance strongly voiced that Clark Field should be perserved as a green space. Ruth Kaczor with the "Friends of Clark Field" group led off the discussion by saying that Clark Field can have many future advantages for the community.
"We believe that Clark Field is premium green space and we don't want to surrender it to a building. It's potential to serve in the future extends far beyond its reach today to include community events, mutliple sports at every age level and outdoor activities that promote the health and vitality of our youth."
A need was created for an early childhood education building when the Roosevelt site, the original home for the programs, was damaged in a fire in 2014. The programs were temporarily moved to St. Joseph and the district wanted to find space in St. Cloud to build a early childhood facility.
St. Cloud area school district superintendent Willie Jett says the plan is still in motion to put in a building on Clark Field. However, they are still monitoring the process.
"That plan is still in place, but it's always being evaluated. Tonight is one of the steps in the evaluation."
Clark Field opened in 1942 and was closed to Tech varsity football in 2012 due to mold and structural concerns.
Anne Weitz spoke at the session, saying the board should have responded more to the needs of the field.
"It seems very disingenuous to me to take a facility that you're responsible to care for, let it go into neglect and then use it three years later to build an office building."
Mike Dombrovski had attended Tech football games at Clark Field for decades. He says the magic has gone from Tech home games since they're no longer played there.
"We're 1-3 in homecoming games since then. The spirit of home games is taken away."
Many emphasized the importance of a location for early childhood education in St. Cloud, but urged the school board to look elsewhere for the programs. Others in the crowd expressed concern with the district not being transparent enough.
“They just didn’t do a good job of telling us what they were going to do,” one community member said.
After being closed in 2012, the Tech alumni association pitched a plan to the district to raise half of the $3.4 million needed to renovate the field. However, the district eventually decided to not to spend money on the field.
The broad plan was to build a new high school and have all athletic facilities on its campus. However, the $167 million referendum that would have included just over $113 million for a new Tech was voted down last week. The Clark Field building wasn’t included in the referendum, it would be payed for by a $10 million lease levy, $6 million in insurance proceeds and with money from the recent sale of the Colts Academy building to St. Joseph.
After the community input, Jett says it was impressive to see the passion from so many for the field.
"People expressing themselves passionately. People are wanting to be heard as it relates to the tradition of Clark Field."
School board members Dennis Whipple, Jerry Von Korff and Bruce Hentges were at the meeting and responded to questions and criticism of the plan. Feedback from the session will now be taken to the school board during their work study session next week.
"There’s a lot of listening to do and I’m humbled to realize what I didn’t do. I’m grateful for this opportunity," Whipple says.