The Grand Forks school district and Altru Health System have forged a 10-year, $750,000 agreement -- the first of its kind -- which calls for the health system to provide athletic training services and funds for equipment and facility upgrades in exchange for corporate sponsorships.

Under the collaborative agreement, Altru will provide athletic trainers for each middle and high school, $20,000 per year for equipment, and a $35,000 per year contribution for replacing the track and turf at the Cushman Athletic Complex.

“This is a great partnership,” School Board President Eric Lunn, a pediatrician, said at a recent board meeting, where he noted that students who need further consultation on a health issue are not referred to Altru but receive a recommendation from the trainer to see their primary care provider.

The agreement allows for the doubling of athletic trainers -- to two at each high school and two to cover the four middle schools, said Mark Rerick, athletic director for Grand Forks Public Schools.

For Grand Forks Public Schools, that coverage “is, first and foremost, the most important part to us,” Rerick said.

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“In previous agreements, we’ve had one athletic trainer at each high school and one to cover all four middle schools, which essentially means your poor middle school athletic trainer is really covering nobody, because they’re just running all over the place. And our high school athletic trainers always had the sense of being needed where they aren’t.

“And, of course, providing coverage at contests means that our practices were always uncovered,” he said.

Because of the number of facilities in use “on any given night, especially in the winter, we might have two or three facilities that are uncovered,” Rerick said. “So being able to double our coverage is going to increase the availability of athletic training staff for our kids.”

“The ultimate benefit for our kids is just knowing that we’ll have an athletic trainer available for them at pretty much all times,” he said.

As has been the practice in the past, if a student has a health issue, that student and his or her family are advised to see their primary care provider, and are not referred to an Altru provider, Rerick said. “We want our families to choose the medical care they normally choose, whatever they feel is best for their family.”

At the Cushman Athletic Complex, “the track surface and turf itself are at end-of-life right now and need to be replaced,” Rerick said. The $35,000 per year investment will offset replacement costs.

“Turf replacement, depending on the base surface, can be in the $650,000 to $800,000 range for the turf, and that’s not including the track,” he said. “So those funds that are allocated for Cushman will be specifically to offset track and turf replacement, and that’ll be every year moving forward because that’s where those funds are needed.”

Altru’s annual $20,000 investment in sports equipment will boost the district’s budget in that category for grades 7-12, which is in the $65,000 to $80,000 range, he said.

The most important benefit in this agreement for Altru is “community good will,” Rerick said. “You’re talking about two of the larger employers in the Grand Forks area now with a 10-year agreement to take care of each other -- that’s first and foremost.

“Being able to have their logo on the turf (and) their logo on all of our sidelines, obviously that’s going to be good publicity for Altru and it helps strengthen their presence as a medical provider in town.

“There are other little things that are written in, in terms of sponsorship recognitions and things like that, but I think all of that is secondary to being able to show the community how dedicated Altru Health is to our kids.”

In the past, agreements of this type have been less formal, Rerick said. “It’s been an exchange of services. Altru has covered our athletic services for us and, in exchange, we’re offered a handful of advertising opportunities for them.

“This is obviously much bigger than that and because of the size of the dollar amount, and the strength of the sponsorship agreement, that was the necessity of the ten years.”

This partnership “is a really good thing for both entities” and for students, Rerick said.

“Ultimately, that’s our goal -- to improve the health of our kids, improve the experience of our kids, and really help them to get the most out of our athletic program as possible.”