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Booster club secures Metrodome turf for Mayo Field

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In this photo taken Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011, the Metrodome is ready for the return of the Minnesota Vikings for their first game there since the ceiling caved in during a snowstorm last December. They have a new roof and new turf to use starting with Saturday's preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys. But this is the final year of their lease at the stadium, and their future beyond that is unclear.

A six-figure donation to Mayo High School's booster club could start something of a turf war among the city's high schools.

The Rochester School Board on Tuesday unanimously approved a donation that will see the top-of-the-line Metrodome artificial turf installed at Mayo Field for the upcoming fall sports season. The donation means the Spartans will become the first Rochester high school team to have a turf field, though Superintendent Michael Munoz says it remains a priority to also procure turf for John Marshall and Century.

"We have a goal to get all three done, and this is a way, at no cost, to get us one of those," Munoz said during the 25-minute discussion.

"I think it's not only a great opportunity for Rochester Public Schools, but for the whole Rochester community," Munoz added.

When Todd Carlson co-founded the Touchdown Club in 2009, one of the explicit goals of the booster club was to install artificial turf at the stadium used by Mayo's football, soccer and lacrosse teams and its band. He said that a number of unique connections to the Minnesota Vikings opened the door to purchase the Metrodome turf, the same model turf used in the last two Super Bowls. One major donor, who has requested anonymity, spearheaded the turf's acquisition.

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Carlson said the Touchdown Club saved more than $300,000 by purchasing the two-year-old turf from the Vikings. He expects it will last another 15-20 years and eliminate about $20,000 in annual costs associated with maintaining a natural grass surface.

The turf is being stored in a warehouse in southeastern Minnesota, though Mayo High School officials declined to say where. It will be shipped in on eight semis this summer to begin the 8- to 10-week installation, which will be paid for by the Touchdown Club and local sponsors.

"It's the top turf available in the marketplace," Carlson said

"I think it's also going to motivate JM and Century (to get turf)," he added. "And all the students will benefit."

Mayo High School officials shared news of the donation with JM and Century school officials last week, but district policy required that it come before the board for formal approval. Century athletic director Mark Kuisle attended Tuesday's board meeting but declined comment afterward.

A press conference has been set for 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, when Munoz and Mayo officials will speak in greater detail about the turf and other arrangements.

Some school board members raised concerns about equity prior to voting to accept the donation. The most vocal was Gary Smith, who represents citizens in Northwest Rochester, which is JM territory.

"The district has previously made the commitment to have equitable facilities," said Smith, who ultimately voted to accept the donation. "My only concern is the perception that one of our schools will have facilities that are superior to others."

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Anne Becker, the board chairwoman, pointed out that's already the case with two examples. Century is the lone public school without a swimming pool, while it also boasts extra gym space because of the National Volleyball Center.

The turf donation has been a tightly held secret in recent weeks. It was a late addition to Tuesday's agenda, and Mayo athletic director Jeff Whitney omitted the turf's history in his brief explanation to the school board.

When pressed by board member Dan O'Neil for the turf's origin, Whitney fessed up that the Vikings were involved. That led to a jab that Packers fans, like the father of Mayo Principal Tom Olson, surely enjoyed.

"So we'll bring the turf it's first championship then?" quipped O'Neil.

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