We have recently learned that DeLaSalle High School has plans to expand its athletic field on Nicollet Island. A picture of the proposed field expansion is attached.
To build this facility, DeLaSalle would take over some land owned by the Park Board, including the present tennis courts and a strip of open ground along the river, now sometimes used for parking.
DeLaSalle staff say that the athletic field would be a very important part of the education they provide to inner-city kids. They claim it is a matter of “social justice” for their kids to have this field to play on.
At present, they do have a football field for practice. What they don’t have is enough room for bleachers so that home games can be played there. They play their home games on the Park Board fields at Fort Snelling.
There are four home games a year.
In order to play these four games at the school, they are proposing to construct this complex at an estimated cost of $3 million. If they can in fact raise $3 million, the only beneficiaries of the “social justice” will be the 20 or 30 boys on the football team, and their parents. That money could be better spent on a good many other school programs.
DeLaSalle says the field will be used for soccer also, presumably in order to include a sport that girls can play.
But a soccer field is considerably larger than a football field. It is not clear whether a soccer field would fit in this area. They haven’t measured it. The picture was prepared by DeLaSalle, and the field they are showing is a good deal smaller than either a football or soccer field.
Building this complex will require closing half of Grove Street, which has the potential to create some serious problems in terms of emergency access. The fire chief does not believe it would cause any trouble, but no formal study has yet been done. No one has explained how ambulances and police cars would navigate the roundabout route, or how much extra time it would take
Emergency access to the north end of the Island is a problem anyway, because there are 30 to 50 trains per day which block the railroad grade crossings, and only one bridge over the tracks. The street closing would cut off one of the two access routes to the bridge. The other emergency access route would be compromised by having all the school traffic forced onto it.
Aside from emergency access, there would be other traffic and parking problems. School buses and cars now use Grove Street to circle around DeLaSalle. That would no longer be possible. With a train across the grade crossings, all these vehicles would encounter a dead end and have to turn around.
In order to make the playing field fit, the complex would need to include a strip of land along the tracks which is proposed for use for a future light-rail line. There are better locations for the light rail; but City and State money, and Federal ISTEA funds, have already been spent for raising and lengthening bridges along this corridor. The total is probably $5 to $10 million.
The field would need to have a retaining wall along East Island, about 400 feet long and rising perhaps 10 feet above street level. With the wall on one side, bleachers on top of the wall, and a parking lot and tennis courts on the other side, this area would not be much like a park.
That would be a loss to the thousands of people who now visit the Island to walk, jog, bike, exercise their dogs, take a carriage ride, look at the river and the Victorian houses, and generally get away from the atmosphere of the city. At present, people can cross the river and find themselves in a semi-rural area. Under this plan, they would walk into something resembling the parking lot at the Metrodome.
Turning park land over to a private institution raises some rather serious public-policy issues, of course. Apparently the idea is that the public will “share” these facilities. But if DeLaSalle didn’t want them, would the public actually need them in this location, and would that be judged the best use of the area? It is very doubtful.
This is a regional park, originally dedicated to passive recreation. It serves that purpose well. The Met Council has said that athletic facilities don’t belong in regional parks, and that is a wise policy. They benefit a very small number of people compared to their impact on a much larger number.
If you share our concerns about this issue, contact Park Board and City Council members. The project may be discussed at the Park Board meeting on January 19. However, the agenda for that meeting is not yet available. It will probably be ready about the 14th.
John Chaffee and other friends of the Island