Future athletics at U site being tested for pollutants

Than Tibbetts

Workers began digging trenches and boring holes around the Huron Boulevard Parking Complex this week to begin the environmental assessment of the proposed on-campus stadium site.

The work marks the start of pollution assessments on land that University officials hope will become a recreation and athletics district stretching from the Huron Boulevard parking lots to the Bierman athletic complex.

From the proposed $235 million stadium to a recreational facilities area known as University Park, the northeast end of the East Bank would see dramatic changes during the next decade if the University’s plans are realized.

Workers will be boring for soil samples, digging a series of 50-foot test trenches and installing wells to monitor groundwater around the Huron Boulevard parking lots, said Brian Swanson, University project coordinator.

The environmental remediation portion of the stadium project follows Minnesota Pollution Control Agency guidelines for learning what work would need to be done to comply with pollution and contaminant cleanup.

University officials are also working on the first part of an expansion to athletics facilities.

By September, officials hope to demolish the McLaughlin Gormley King Co. building north of Fifth Street Southeast, said Mike Denny, director of development services.

The site will be used to build four tennis courts as an addition to the Baseline Tennis Center.

“I’ve promised athletics (officials) that we would have the courts available in spring of ’06,” Denny said.

Denny said the demolition has been pushed back because of the discovery of a number of contaminants on the site, including asbestos, lead, mercury and pesticides.

Though a completion date is unknown, design plans for University Park are expected to be completed by October, said Orlyn Miller, Capital Planning and Project Management Office director.

The University’s preliminary plans are to build a new ballpark, sand volleyball courts, jogging paths, a skateboarding park and two all-season synthetic fields under a dome. But much of the project might have to wait.

“I don’t believe any aspect of ‘U’ park except for tennis courts will be built until substantial work on the stadium is done,” Miller said. “Assuming the stadium proceeds as planned.”

The stadium’s future is currently at the whim of the Legislature. Officials said they are hoping the stadium bill, which would provide $94 million, or 40 percent, of the stadium’s cost, will be heard once the state passes its budget.