Because of delayed construction on sports facilities around their football fields, Pocatello and Highland will play all of their varsity football games inside of Holt Arena this season.

Last year, the Thunder and Rams played outside because they had to. Citing COVID precaution, Idaho State did not allow local high schools to play their varsity football games in Holt Arena for the first time in decades. A year later, Pocatello and Highland planned on playing games outside because they wanted to.

As the Idaho State Journal detailed in its three-part series “Fields of Change,” 2020 proved that School District 25 had been too reliant on Holt Arena without upgrading its own football facilities.

And, so, over the summer, construction was to begin on a press box at Iron Horse Stadium and, in an effort to give Pocatello its own field, lights and bleachers were to be put in at Hawthorne Middle School – where the Thunder plan to play their games moving forward.

All of this was supposed to be completed before the high school football season began. There was enough confidence that would happen that athletic directors began to schedule games for outside.

“August 1 is when it was supposed to be done,” Highland Athletic Director Travis Bell said of the Iron Horse press box. “We’re locked into Holt Arena now because they can’t get this thing done because of COVID.”

Added Pocatello AD Robert Parker: “Hawthorne isn’t ready to go for varsity games yet. They don’t have the lights done yet. The bleachers, are don’t know if they’re done yet. And the field needs some serious work. It’s not safe.”

Because no construction had begun at Century, Diamondbacks’ Athletic Director Mark Pixton noted they will play September home games against Idaho Falls and Twin Falls at Century before transitioning into Holt Arena beyond that.

Despite the delay, District 25 spokesperson Courtney Fisher told The Journal that District 25’s five-year plan is still on track, a proposed $5-million project that will provide fully functional football facilities with lights, bleachers, locker rooms, concession stands, restrooms, press boxes and turf fields at Century, Highland and Hawthorne.

“Work will continue through the fall until each project is completed,” Fisher wrote in an email. “District administration works daily with construction management teams overseeing the projects to ensure adequate progress is met … Many of the district’s major facility improvements have been delayed this year due to a shortage of labor and materials.”

Helping expedite the plan is outside money funneling in to District 25 schools. The press box at Iron Horse was paid for by a large donation from Connections Credit Union. And, recently, Lookout Credit Union agreed to a $1-million partnership with Pocatello, which will, in part, pay for a turf field and scoreboard at Hawthorne – both of which are scheduled to be put in next summer.

As for Century, well, the Diamondbacks haven’t heard much about when the district plans to begin construction on its field.

“I think they’re working on the other two at the moment,” Pixton said, adding he hasn’t been given an indication when the renovations will get underway.

Asked about this, Fisher said, “The OFC (Outdoor Facilities Committee) has a meeting set in September and will work to further define the timeline for this project.”