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DMPS advances community stadium by Knapp Center

Photo courtesy of Des Moines Public Schools

The Des Moines School Board voted 5 to 1 on March 10 in favor of accepting bids for the construction of the DMPS Community Stadium at Drake University. 

In 2020, the school board approved an agreement between Des Moines Public Schools and Drake University to build a 4,000-seat stadium east of the Knapp Center. The community stadium will be used for home football games for four out of the five district high schools, as well as soccer games and other activities for both the high schools and Drake.

“…To meet a need that [DMPS has] identified for a centralized stadium, to bring that onto this college campus, to give local high school and middle school youth the opportunity to compete on a high-caliber, college-level playing surface and fan atmosphere, I think that is an incredible benefit to this university,” said Ryan Arnold, director of community engagement for Drake. “It truly is strengthening this local community.”

The stadium will include a moving digital display that will run along the west grandstands. DMPS executive director of operations Dave Berger also described a plan to create a training complex that would include locker rooms for Drake soccer, training facilities and a film room. This plan was not presented for consideration with the rest of the project. 

Arnold said that pending approval by its board of trustees, Drake will pay for the complex in addition to its previous funding commitment. He said this part of the stadium project will have to go back out to bid and will cost more than $1 million.

The original budget for the community stadium was $19.5 million, with DMPS providing $15 million from revenue dedicated to facilities and Drake providing $4.5 million. Additionally, DMPS said that the land Drake donated for the stadium is valued at $2.5 million and Drake will provide free daily operations and maintenance.

“When we look at bringing our individual stadiums up to something that approaches the level of this proposed new stadium, the costs are way more than the cost for this stadium,” DMPS superintendent Thomas Ahart said during the meeting. “Way more. And in fact, in some cases, probably would be ill-advised even if we had the dollars.”

According to DMPS, inflation has caused the cost of the project for DMPS to increase by $1.39 million. The school board had rejected two previous bids that came in over budget, as the cost of materials increased during the pandemic. The bid accepted on March 10 came in at about $1 million over the original budget. 

Berger explained in the board meeting that during the pandemic, the district received federal funds for projects like mechanical and ventilation improvements. Since the district had already set aside funding for many of these projects, DMPS said it will use that freed-up funding to make up the $1 million gap. 

During the public comment section of the meeting, community members shared concerns about a bus driver shortage, transportation of students to the new stadium and whether the community supports the stadium.

“By adding more need for bus drivers and bus services, we’re not being student-friendly at this point,” said Sharon West, one of the public commenters. “Additionally, students who want to attend the games cannot walk to the stadium.”

DMPS director of district activities Jason Allen said the district acknowledges that there are transportation challenges, but he said the district can utilize its current modes of transport and maybe its vans to provide support. Ahart said the district is saving dollars through its relationship with Drake that will pay for “a very good share” of this need and is working on “creative solutions” to the driver shortage.

The community stadium is set to open in the fall of 2023. A groundbreaking ceremony will be scheduled soon.

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