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District 196 board ready to approve financing for artificial turf fields

At its next regular meeting on Monday, April 13, the District 196 School Board is expected to take action on financing and awarding bids for construction of artificial turf fields at Eagan and Rosemount high schools this year.  

At a special meeting conducted by videoconference April 6, the board accepted a presale report on financing from Ehlers and Associates, the district’s financial consultant. Ehlers is recommending the district sell certificates of participation that would provide nearly $9.5 million to be used for the construction of artificial turf fields at Eagan and Rosemount high schools. In December, the board gave the administration the go-ahead to pursue plans to add two artificial turf fields – one stadium field and one practice field with lights – at each of the district’s four high schools, for a total of eight fields. Artificial turf fields at Apple Valley and Eastview high schools would be financed through a separate sale of certificates and would be constructed in spring/summer 2021, with completion in time for the start of the 2021-22 school year.

“We don’t attract as many bids for certificates of participation as we do for other bond issues,” Jodi Zesbaugh of Ehlers told the board. “Generally, we get one to three on certificates of participation, but we still have been getting nice low rates. We think this is still the best tool for you to use to finance the turf fields.”

Bids for the certificates of participation will be opened the morning of April 13 and results will be presented at the board meeting that night. If the sale is approved, debt service on the certificates would be paid from general fund property tax levies as part of the district’s annual lease levy. Director of Finance and Operations Mark Stotts said the turf project will increase the district’s total levy by approximately 1 percent and will be financed over a 10-year period. 

The administration presented a proposal for artificial turf in December, in response to growing concerns about safety and playability issues on the district’s sod fields. The situation reached a breaking point last fall, when a wet season and failed drainage tile system caused Rosemount High School to shut down its stadium field. Rosemount has moved more than 20 varsity events in the last two years because of poor field conditions and this is also a problem at the other three high schools. 

“(Turf) has changed from being an extra to an expectation,” Superintendent Mary M. Kreger told the board in December. District 196 high schools are part of a shrinking minority of metro-area high schools (24 of 76) and the only member high schools in the South Suburban Conference and Region 3AA that do not have artificial turf fields. 

In addition to providing a more consistent and reliable surface for high school athletic teams and marching bands, artificial turf fields would provide additional teaching stations for the schools’ physical education classes and would be valuable new resources for athletic associations that offer programs for youth in the communities District 196 serves. 

“We’ve gone from want to need,” Eastview High School Athletics Director Matt Percival told the board in December, referring to conversations about artificial turf over the last 20 years. He said sod fields have not held up well to increased demand for usage by more sports and activities, and the year-round nature of these activities. Eastview limits usage of the stadium field and adjacent lower-level field to about 70 events per year in order to protect the sod as much as possible. If they were artificial turf fields, Percival said that number would increase to more than 1,200 event/game opportunities in the fall and spring each year, not including summer.