The city and school district of Princeton started discussions on a joint facility that could be put before voters in the near future.

Princeton officials gathered in a joint meeting to discuss a potential field house or community center that would be shared between the school district and the city.

The preliminary discussion focused on some general possibilities and largely served to affirm the City Council and School Board’s mutual interest in the concept. If the facility is pursued, it could end up as a referendum next November.

A survey conducted in 2019 by the district indicated significant support for what the school is doing. Over a quarter of respondents rated the quality of education as excellent, and 87% of respondents described it as either good or excellent, according to council documents.

When asked what types of projects they would support increasing the levy for, a little over half of respondents supported a variety of athletics-related improvements including installing artificial turf (55%), upgrading locker rooms (53%), and adding a high school gym (53%). The field house came in at 51% of respondents supporting it.

Specific to high school athletics, the results from the survey indicated community members wanted to see locker rooms centrally located near activity spaces, a larger weight room, more multi-purpose gym space and distinctive spaces for wrestling and gymnastics programs.

Lower-ranked needs included an indoor walking area, meeting rooms available during the day and evening, and gym space for activities like pickleball and badminton, according to council documents.

Vaughn Dierks with Wold Architects and Engineers discussed what a field house could look like. He pointed out that there is a lot of variation in exactly what is included.

One possibility was a field house that included space for four new courts, a running track and an elevated walking track. The facility would be attached to the high school, but accessible to community members as well. The additional gym space would open up room to move wrestling and gymnastics into existing athletic facilities, according to council documents.

The school board discussed some of what they saw at the Chisago facility when they toured it. That building was open to both community members and students.

“One of the things they said they loved about it, was it was intergenerational,” Superintendent Ben Barton said. “It brought some of the seniors in the community into the same space as some of our youth.”

When asked if the facility would compete with local gyms and fitness centers, Barton said the building would offer different services, like the walking track, that smaller private gyms couldn’t offer.

Councilors Jeff Reynolds, Victoria Hallin and Jenny Gerold all voiced support for the project, though all three councilors also wanted a better grasp of the costs to taxpayers before getting fully on board.

Gerold raised a question about possibly using the former Shopko building to save money. Dierks said that building had been looked at, but it wasn’t ideal for an athletics facility due to the columns throughout it. Additionally the building’s location doesn’t address the district’s needs for facilities like lockers and gym classes, Dierks said.

Ultimately both bodies appeared in favor of moving forward with the project jointly.

“If we’re going to have something good like this, this is the only way that it’s going to happen,” Mayor Thom Walker said.

The city and school district have until the end of July or early August to decide on the plans if they want to get the question on this November’s ballot, Barton said.

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