DeLaSalle gets OK for field on Nicollet Islandby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
DeLaSalle High School has cleared another hurdle in its effort to build a new athletic field near its campus on Nicollet Island. The Minneapolis City Council voted to give the school permission to go forward with its plans. The vote was a big disappointment to many of the school's neighbors who worry the field could destroy the island's character.
Minneapolis, Minn. — Nicollet Island is a historic district that's home to dozens of Victorian-era homes that sit on secluded, tree-lined streets. Visitors can also walk and bike through parts of the island on a series of trails. Opponents of the DeLaSalle athletic field plan - including some of the school's neighbors - say a field and bleachers for 750 spectators would spoil some of the historic nature of the island.
However, the chairman of DeLaSalle's Board of Trustees, Tim Keane, says he finds the historic preservation argument a little ironic.
"The people that reside on the Island now have all come since the mid 1980s," he says. "The school has been there 106 years - the longest continuing resident of the island."
DeLaSalle is trying to add a multi-use athletic facility that would include room for a full-sized football field, a few practice fields and a soccer pitch. Currently, the school can't accomodate a home field for it's football team
"We just had our homecoming last weekend - at Benilde - it was fun but it wasn't a homecoming precisely," says Nikki Carlson, who is the mother of a 10th grade DeLaSalle student. She says besides having actual home games for the football team, the new facility will provide more room for safe and structured activity for students. And she says that will make the school more appealing to parents who are considering where to send their children for school.
"We need this for our school to be competitive," she says. "And I think that's absolutely OK. I don't think there's anything to be criticized about that. We want our school to survive and we need to have the amenities that compete with the other schools."
Last month the city's Heritage Preservation Commission agreed with critics who say the field is just too much to put on the island. It denied the school's bid for a "certificate of appropriateness." The school needed the certificate because Nicollet Island is a historic district. The commission has a lengthy set of guidelines including how high structures can be built, what materials can be used and what colors they can be.
But the city council's approval overrides the Heritage Preservation Commission's decision.
"Well I was, disappointed," says Irene Jones, outreach director for Friends of the Mississippi River.
Jones says upsetting the quiet surroundings of the Island in exchange for five home football games each fall is not a good deal.
"It sort of makes me sad that it doesn't seem that people really have a strong appreciation for Nicollet Island," says Jones. "I think its one of the more beautiful and intimate and quaint places in the city. And you can really experience the city's history and you can really experience the river. And I think many of the councilmembers didn't value that as much as I would have like to have seen."
This will likely not be the last stand for opponents of the DeLaSalle athletic field. The City Council will have to vote in a few weeks on another part of the proposal because it involves the closing of a street. A super majority of the council - nine of 13 votes - is needed to approve such a measure. Eight councilmembers voted in favor of the plan on Friday. But one councilmember was out of town and didn't vote.
City Council president Barb Johnson, who is a trustee of DeLaSalle, says she consulted a city ethics officer before casting a vote in favor of the school's plan. She says she was told she didn't have to recuse herself because she doesn't have a financial interest in the outcome.
- All Things Considered, 09/22/2006, 5:49 p.m.