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Hermantown schools receive million-dollar donation for artificial turf

Centricity Credit Union is donating $1 million to Hermantown Community Schools so they can convert the school's football field to artificial turf.

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Jaxon Edwards (87) and Simon Randorf (13) of Duluth East tackle Jacob Backstrom (32) of Hermantown during Friday's game at Corey Veech Memorial Field in Hermantown. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
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Hermantown High School’s football field has been described as many things. It’s been compared to the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles and has been called a swamp and slop. But if everything goes right, those names will no longer be associated with the Corey Veech Memorial Field next fall.

Hermantown Community Schools has received a $1 million donation from Centricity Credit Union in Hermantown to put toward converting the football field to artificial turf. Hermantown superintendent Kerry Juntunen said that in exchange for the donation, the stadium will carry the Centricity name for 15 years, though the field will remain named Corey Veech Memorial Field.

“With the expense of these fields, they are so huge, so we started a few years ago trying to find an educational sponsor who would come on, alongside us, and help us with this," Juntunen said. “We talked to several organizations and, finally, we found that the local credit union, Centricity, was looking for a way to get their name out there and they said it was a perfect fit for them.”

Juntunen said the $1 million donation wouldn’t cover the entire expense of the field upgrade. The district will fill in the gap with operating capital funds that have been set aside for education facilities.

Juntunen said the district sees the artificial turf as more than just a football or soccer or lacrosse field, but as an outdoor educational space that can be used by the physical education classes.

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“It really is a genius idea to make sure you have an educational space, especially in the spring and fall, and get kids out there and participating in outdoor activities,” Juntunen said. “In our climate, it’s just really tough.”

Proctor schools was the most recent district to switch to artificial turf, which was installed in 2017 and cost $1.3 million, though it also included a full baseball field.

Hermantown football coach Mike Zagelmeyer said the artificial turf will bring a sense of pride to the school.

“As the football coach, I won’t have to worry about games being canceled or playoff games being moved anymore if we can get this thing done in time,” he said.

Zagelmeyer has been the football coach for two seasons now. He said since being the coach he hasn’t had to cancel or move games but they came very close during the 2018 homecoming game. Hermantown has moved many playoff games over the years and even practices due to unsafe field conditions.

“The safety issue does come into play because in the past it has been so soft we've had times that our cleats have been up to ankle-deep and you get worried about kids getting stuck in the mud, literally, and have an ankle or knee injury,” Zagelmeyer said. “Safety has priority over anything and the artificial turf is going to provide a condition for players that's a lot safer than what we are currently using.”

Zagelmeyer said the artificial turf will be a game-changer for more than just football, with soccer and lacrosse teams expected to play on it. Zagelmeyer is also the Hawks' baseball coach and said it will be nice in the spring for the baseball and softball teams to have a place other than an asphalt parking lot to hit fly and ground balls.

“A lot of school districts in the area are calling Superior or calling Proctor to rent the field and get games in,” Zagelmeyer said. “I hope, down the road, we take advantage of something like that because we've definitely spent our money running around the communities trying to find a place to play a baseball game. So hopefully that comes full circle for us.”

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Hermantown currently has a request for proposal (RFP) out for an engineering consultant to help guide the district through the process. Zagelmeyer said he's on a committee that has heard presentations from three companies so far and is waiting on a fourth. Juntunen said there’s no deadline for choosing a company but there is a deadline for a finished product the district wants to hit.

The RFP sets a completion deadline of Aug. 24, 2020.

“What a couple of the representatives have told us is that we're going to want our kids out there to run on it to see what it feels like because it is a totally different experience,” Juntunen said.

Juntunen said the long-term plan for the field is to redo the press box as well as add locker rooms to the field.

Zagelmeyer said he hopes the new turf will give the football program a shot of energy once it’s completed.

“I have a bunch of juniors who are going to be senior football players next year who want to make sure they can play their home games next year,” he said. “So it’s all about meeting our deadlines right now, but yet doing the process correctly.”

Related Topics: FOOTBALL
Adelle Whitefoot covers K-12 education in northeast Minnesota for the Duluth News Tribune. She has been covering education in Minnesota since 2014.
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