February 15, 2000
Students, alumni remember historic facility
Board to begin financial plans for district-wide renovations today
By Tom Wilkowske and Mary Thompson
Although the wrecking ball won't swing until spring, Monday was the beginning of the end for Duluth's storied Public Schools Stadium as the flames of a "goodbye" bonfire lit the night sky.
The bonfire drew about 200 high school students who seemed more interested in tossing each other in the snow than in the imminent demise of the historic stadium, which is next to Denfeld High School in West Duluth.
But a handful of alumni and dozens of Denfeld football players said they came to bid farewell to a field that had been such a big part of their lives.
"I wanted to be part of this memory,'' said Ginger McFaul, Denfeld Class of '60. "We're having our 40th reunion this summer and I wanted to be able to tell my classmates about this night."
Public Schools Stadium is scheduled to be torn down this spring to make way for a new football and soccer stadium with a state-of-the-art running track, which will be built on the same site. The bonfire, organized for Denfeld's Snow Week, was the students' official farewell to PSS.
Denfeld defensive tackle Thad Albert said he would miss the Depression-era stadium, even though the field was trampled into a muddy mess by the end of each season.
"My grandfather and six of my uncles played on this field," Albert said as he and several of his buddies gathered around the bonfire. "I was the last in my family to play here."
Albert plans to salvage a chunk of the concrete bleachers from the demolition pile this spring and keep it as a momento of his family's football legacy.
Albert isn't the only one who wants a piece of PSS. Denfeld Principal Bill Westholm said he has had calls from alumni who have offered to buy sections of the wooden bleacher seats as keepsakes.
Westholm played on that field for three years in the 1960s, but he said he felt little nostalgia for the stadium. "It's time for this to go," he said. "This is going to be a positive change for sports at our schools."
Public Schools Stadium, built to serve all three Duluth high schools, has been home to generations of athletes since its construction in the 1930s. Sentimental value aside, the concrete bleachers are crumbling and the field has become a soggy mess from overuse by football and soccer teams.
The School Board begins today to make financial preparations for the district-wide renovation of outdoor athletic facilities.
The board is expected to issue school construction bonds and set up a new bank account to track related expenses.
Thanks to a $6.67 million referendum voters approved last spring, school outdoor athletic facilities throughout Duluth will see major renovation and expansion.
PSS will be the first to get a face-lift, according to Kerry Leider, the district's director of facilities.
"We're looking at having construction start in late March or early April, prior to road restrictions going on," said Leider, stressing that plans are still being formulated. A more detailed report to the School Board is expected in coming
The goal is to have the combination football and soccer field ready for next fall's sports season, he said. There are three "ifs" to meeting that deadline: "If bid climate is good, if contractor can get busy and if the weather holds out," he said.
Besides the new field, there will be a new all-weather track, fan seating, restrooms, concessions, lighting and locker rooms.
Leider said SEH Architects is preparing construction documents so bids can be sought within the next month or so.
At Ordean Field, school building officials are exploring whether demolition and construction can be scheduled this year to avoid spring high school baseball and summer American Legion baseball, Leider said.
Planning isn't as far along at Central High School, which will get a new multi purpose field, concession stand and other facilities. Leider said it's still possible tennis courts might be completed bysummer, but the total project is slated for completion by fall 2001.