HIBBING — A board member from the Hibbing Dylan Project appeared before Hibbing School Board looking, once again, for a firm yay or nay on whether the donation of a $150,000 monument honoring Robert Zimmerman — AKA Bob Dylan — will be allowed to take up permanent residence on the lawn of the Hibbing High School.
The idea, which was originally pitched to the district two years ago and seemingly embraced at the time, was revisited by Katie Fredeen, a Hibbing Dylan Project board member, in June. The discussion spiraled into an unsettled debate about whether the proposed gift and tourist attraction honoring the 2016 Nobel Laureate in Literature at the school where he graduated would pose a security threat to students. The same thing happened again last week as a 45-minute discussion unraveled with similar results.
The Dylan tribute dreamed up by the non-profit group consists of a bronze chair backed with a curved steel and brick wall showcasing his song lyrics. The open air stage would be 35x38-feet and sit just down the street from Dylan’s childhood home on Seventh Avenue. The design has been approved by Dylan’s family and project board has already invested several thousand dollars in soil testing and surveying the site of the potential future monument. While several changes have been made to the plans, such as slightly shifting the proposed location of the monument and turning it at an angle, there are several school board members whose support of the project has not wavered — including Kathy Nyberg, Mike Egan and Jeff Polcher.
School Board Chair John Berklich, who had to leave before the Dylan Project discussion last Wednesday, threw his pebble in favor of the monument during an unofficial vote in June.
Last week, Marge Martin doubled down on her concerns about “donating land,” citing future maintenance costs and what she views as a potential security threat because the monument invites the public onto school grounds. She also felt it set a precedence, making the school property a free-for-all to anyone who wants to erect a statue. Martin also insisted that because the project does not “facilitate curriculum,” it doesn’t belong at the school.
Nyberg pointed out that they had just heard a presentation from a group proposing a $50 million dollar project to rehab the sports and wellness activities in town, so the monument “would really be nice for the artsy kids that are into that kind of stuff — English and writing — to know that we support them as well. I think it’s important.”
Fredeen, Nyberg and Polcher agreed. Unconvinced, Martin questioned, “How is this going to do something for the arts?”
Egan quickly likened it to kids getting inspired to join sports after watching Kevin McHale, another HHS graduate and retired professional basketball player.
“Why isn’t this in the community?” Martin asked later in the meeting. “This should be a community collaboration.”
To this, Nyberg answered, “Ask the city of Hibbing. But these people have asked us and we have an opportunity to do something for Bob Dylan and our students and our high school and to say, ‘Thank you, committee members, you’ve done all the work.’” She continued, “All we have to do is some approval to put it on our school grounds. We don’t need that little spot of grass, in my mind.”
Kim McLaughlin, who has yet to clearly indicate whether she is for or against the Dylan tribute being located at the school, also echoed her prior concerns about tourists and the safety risks they bring. She then suggested putting it inside the school, but received push back as it was designed to be “public art.”
Fredeen offered responses throughout, listing ways in which the tribute could be worked into class assignments and how the space is designed to be actively used for open-air performances or simply as a place for inspiration. She also highlighted the fact that the school was selected because of its proximity to Dylan’s boyhood home and because he credited his “grammar school” education during his Nobel Prize acceptance speech.
School grounds keepers also revisited their concerns about having to hire snow removal services because the monument is where they usually pile snow during the winter.
By the end, Superintendent Rick Aldrich agreed to reach out to the city regarding options for snow removal along with Tyler Glad, building and grounds supervisor at HHS. Also, Aldrich said they would contact the Historical Preservation Society to see if there are any concerns about the impact the monument might have on the school’s historical significance.
Lastly, Aldrich said he would ask the school’s attorney about whether they should draw up a formal agreement between the school and the Dylan Project and how to word a motion that will ultimately decide the fate of the monument at the school. The official vote is expected to take place at the school board meeting set for Oct. 9 in Hibbing.