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Where the Big Cats roam

Morris' cats will be playing at Big Cat Stadium, hopefully to start the fall football season.

The Morris Area school board approved naming the new football facility Big Cat Stadium at its meeting Monday.

The stadium, which is nearing completion, will be used by the Morris Area High School Tigers and the University of Minnesota, Morris Cougars.

The name was chosen by the Building Advisory Committee and the Joint Use Committee, and UMM officials have approved the name.

Morris Area Athletic Director Mary Holmgren said it was difficult to come up with a name that represented the entities that will share the stadium. Big Cat Stadium was the best fit, she said.

"It's not stuffy," Holmgren said. "It's fun."

School board member Laura Carrington voted against the name, saying she wanted more time for community involvement in the naming process for "ownership" in the facility.

However, Carrington also stated it was not her intent to hold up the process of ordering signs and other amenities that would bear the stadium name.

Work on the $2.8 million stadium is almost complete. The artificial turf playing surface has been installed, and crews were installing goalposts and field numerals Tuesday. The scoreboard is expected to be installed this week.

Work on the press box and concession stand building also continues, and workers were installing bleacher seats.

The Morris Area School District contributed $1 million to the project through money approved in the elementary school bond issue. UMM received the remaining money through state bonding last year.

Morris Area is scheduled to play the first game at Big Cat Field against Minnewaska on Friday, Sept. 1. UMM is scheduled to play a night game against Lawrence University on Saturday, Sept. 2.

In other school board business:

• The board approved a request by APEC, LLC, to decertify almost 61 JOBZ acres in Morris so they can be used for the construction of the proposed DENCO II ethanol plant near Alberta.

APEC must secure the approval of all taxing districts -- the city, county and school board -- to move and recertify the JOBZ acres. The City of Morris and Stevens County also have approved the request.

Morris has used about 20 acres in its Industrial Park for JOBZ projects, and will have about 20 acres remaining after the DENCO project takes its allotment to Scott Township.

The Morris City Council approved the measure after receiving a letter from the Department of Employment and Economic Development that it would work with the city if, in the future, it needed to recover JOBZ-classified acres for a development project.

Michael Haynes, executive director of the Stevens County Economic Improvement Commission, told the school board that the state expected JOBZ acres to be moved after the program was approved since no one could predict where development would occur.

For example, no one would have expected that Scott Township would one day need JOBZ acres, Haynes said.

Haynes also noted that Morris has no projects pending that would request JOBZ classification, and that it isn't an easy program to become involved with.

To qualify for JOBZ, a business must commit the equivalent of about 50 percent of its previous year's revenues to capital improvements, and must increase jobs by about 20 percent of its current employment, Haynes said.

Businesses that do qualify, however, receive a number of tax benefits until the JOBZ program "sunsets" in 2018.

DENCO official Jason Carter told the board the proposed Alberta ethanol plant would add about 40 new jobs, and that the average salary would be about $45,000 per year.

"(JOBZ) doesn't take anything away from the taxing entities," Haynes said, "it just doesn't bring in any of the (tax) benefits for 12 years. But you do gain the benefit of those valued jobs."

• The board approved hiring people for several teaching positions, and the hiring of Steve Wolf as half-time high school principal.

Wolf, who worked the last three years in the Montevideo district, replaces George Morrow, who resigned earlier this summer after his position was reduced to half time. Wolf will teach a section of science the first semester of the 2006-2007 school year, and two science sections the second semester.

• The district also renewed the School Resource Officer position for a third-straight year. Morris Police Officer Anita Liebl will again serve as the SRO, spending a majority of her shift monitoring school activity and interacting with students on the high school and elementary school campus.

• A group of parents with students entering fifth grade expressed their concern about class sizes.

The fifth-grade students this year are expected to total 55, and with two fifth-grade teachers under contract, the class sizes of 28 and 27 students will be too large, the group stated.

Parents said the situation is especially frustrating since district voters approved a levy referendum with the belief it would help decrease class sizes.

Board members stated that even with the levy vote, budget-cutting priorities left them no choice but to work under the current conditions.

Morris Area Elementary Principal Brad Korn said he also wished the situation were different, but that teachers would make every effort to ensure children won't be adversely affected.

"In an ideal world, we certainly would be smaller," Korn said. "I know the school district is financially strapped. ... I know our staff will do a bang-up job."