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John’s Journal: New Elk River Stadium Is ‘Absolutely Amazing’

Elks’ New Facilities Among The Best In Minnesota

Posted: Friday, May 6, 2022 - 10:10 PM


ElkRiverPressBox

“There’s been a great reaction, even though some stuff still needs to get fixed and redone. We're getting there slowly but surely, but aesthetically it’s beautiful.”

Everything was a go for a girls lacrosse game on Thursday evening, with the Knights of St. Michael-Albertville making a 14-mile bus ride to Elk River, home of the Elk River/Zimmerman Elks. The game began right on time at 7 p.m. and ended at 8:15 with the Elks winning 14-4.

The temperature was in the 60s, the breeze was mild, and the athletes enjoyed playing on the new turf in the new stadium that is the new home of the Elks’ lacrosse, soccer, track and field and football teams, along with many other school and community events.

But the game almost didn’t happen there. A couple days earlier, not enough officials had been found. And the stadium was so new that another possible sticking point was looming. The first-class facility includes a new nine-lane track, which had been completed a day before the lacrosse game, but painting of the stripes for those nine lanes had not been finished.

Thankfully, officials were located, the painting crew finished its work earlier Thursday and the game didn’t have to be moved to another site.

Elk River’s stadium, which includes new bleachers, digital scoreboard, press box, a concession/ticket/restroom building, storage areas, team rooms and a room for officials, is among the finest at any Minnesota high school. Some small things were not yet complete before Thursday’s lacrosse game, including proper water pressure in the restrooms. A few porta-potties are on site, a reminder that the old stadium had only portable units.

Elk River activities director Mike Cunningham said, “Right now the biggest reaction is, ‘The bathrooms don't work?’ That was probably one of our biggest selling points and a lot of people didn't realize the importance of restrooms. Some coaches would ask, ‘How come you guys keep talking about indoor restrooms?’ And I finally had to sit some coaches down and told them to look at every mom in the stands. They don't want to use (portables), they want a restroom.”

Other than that, Cuningham said the reaction he hears when people walk into the stadium for the first time is along the lines of, “Holy blank, blank, blank.’ ”  

“There’s been a great reaction, even though some stuff still needs to get fixed and redone,” he said. “We're getting there slowly but surely, but aesthetically it’s beautiful.”

The only remnant from the old stadium stands tall on a large concrete apron inside the main gate: a metal Elk sculpture, with the beast raising its antlers high. That’s a reminder of the proud history of Elk River High School, where football has been played for 133 years. The Elks reached the state football semifinals every year from 2016 through 2019, winning the Class 5A state title in 2016 and finishing second in 2017.

The project included improvements at all three high schools in District 728, including Rogers and Zimmerman, which also have turf fields in their stadiums. In a 2019 vote, nearly 63 percent of voters in the district approved bond funding for facilities improvements and more than 56 percent approved an increase in the operating levy to fund school materials, student support and academic programs. The turf field at Elk River means all 14 schools in the Northwest Suburban Conference now have turf in their stadiums.

“Oh, it's amazing,” Elk River/Zimmerman girls lacrosse coach Stephanie Anderson said of the new stadium. “Absolutely amazing. It's nice to have the turf, the sound system is better, the view is great. It's beautiful here.”

The lacrosse team had practiced on a grass field a day earlier because the track was being completed. The difference is stark.

“It's a whole different story,” Anderson said. “It's like turf is 10 times better, you see less torn ACLs, less rolled ankles. They play quicker and the ball bounces a little different.”

There are more than 100 turf fields at Minnesota high schools, all of them installed since 2000.

The range of new facilities at Elk River High School is impressive. A new two-sheet ice arena, Furniture and Things Community Event Center, is a state-of-the-art multi-purpose site operated by the City of Elk River. There are new tennis courts and baseball and softball fields.

One over-arching question was vital in the design process, Cunningham said.

“How do we make this a state-of-the-art facility while doing things right, because this is our one shot ever.”

Mission accomplished.

--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at jmillea@mshsl.org  

The only remnant from the old stadium stands tall on a large concrete apron inside the main gate: a metal Elk sculpture, with the beast raising its antlers high.


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