Civic Stadium bids adieu to old artificial surface

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 28, 2013 

"It's not the years ... it's the mileage," as Indiana Jones uttered in "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

In recent years, the artificial playing surface at Bellingham's Civic Stadium has looked like a graying, beat-up version of its former self, sending anyone who walked across it home with a gift of green fibers and rubber pellets clinging to their shoes and pant legs.

But, oh, if only what's left of the old surface could talk - what stories it would have to tell of all the champions it's had contact with and the many, many spectacular games and athletic performances of all kinds it's witnessed.

After 13 years, the field has seen its last game.

Following the conclusion of the Bellingham United's Pacific Coast Soccer League home schedule on Sunday, July 21, crews began removing the old synthetic surface from the 51-year-old Civic Stadium last week and are expected to begin installation of the new field this week.

"We're very excited about this project, especially since synthetic turf has evolved so much since 2000," City of Bellingham Parks/Design and Development Division project engineer Gina Austin said in a phone interview. "Products have gotten so much better since we put the current field in. Not only are we getting a new field, but a new product and something that will perform better."

Sprinturf of Atlanta won the contract to install the new surface, submitting a low bid of less than $400,000, Austin said, which included removal of the old surface.

Money to pay for the project included $180,000 from Western Washington University and $300,000 from the 1997 Beyond Greeway levy, Austin said, leaving $80,000 for contingency funds on the project.

Like FieldTurf, which last year installed football surfaces at Seattle's CenturyLink Stadium and at Lummi, Sprinturf has a number of fields gracing athletic facilities around the state. The most notable - or notorious if you're a purist - is the bright red football field at Woodward Field on the Eastern Washington University campus in Cheney, but Sumner's Sunset Chev Stadium and the surface at the lacrosse/soccer field at Whidbey Island U.S. Naval Station are prime examples of Sprinturf's more traditional green fields in the area.

According to sprinturf.com, the company has been in business since 1998 and installed more than 800 fields in North America.

"We expect to have a good surface," Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department recreation manager Greg Hatch said in a phone interview. "Sprinturf is a growing company. They may not have as many fields in this area as FieldTurf does, but they are very qualified, according to their specs. ... All these companies have different levels of product, and this is their top one. We're expecting it to be a good surface."

It will replace Civic's FieldTurf surface that was installed in the summer of 2000 as part of $1.4 million project to switch from a natural surface, eliminating the sloppy, muddy mess that usually developed in the rains of late fall and early spring.

The old field certainly held up its end of the bargain, as Parks and Recreation Department is now able to schedule about 400 events a year, Hatch estimated. That's a monumental increase over the approximately 30 events the facility annually could host on a grass field, not to mention the greatly reduced maintenance costs associated with the synthetic surface.

"It's definitely on the upper end of high use," Austin said of Civic.

While the three city high schools have been the most frequent visitors to the turf with their football and girls' soccer teams in the fall and boys' soccer teams in the spring, a number of other area teams have also utilized the field, including the Bellingham United soccer team the past two years, a number of semi-pro football teams, Western Washington University's football team until it was discontinued after the 2008 season and a number of other community teams. And that's not including the countless community pickup games and practices sessions when nothing else was scheduled.

In addition to regularly hosting Northwest District soccer tournaments and football playoff games during the life of the FieldTurf surface, Civic Stadium has played host to 36 Washington Interscholastic Activities Association state football playoff games and 36 more state soccer games.

And with that much use over the past 13 years, the surface has definitely started to show its age.

"Typically, the warranty on a field like this is eight years," Austin said. "The manufacturer told us to expect it to last eight to 10 years, so obviously we've gone beyond that."

The new surface will have a similar manufacturer's warranty from Sprinturf, Austin said, that includes an eight-year maintenance plan.

Hatch said the company removing the old surface, Sports Field Removal of Oklahoma City, actually has been impressed with how good of condition the field is in considering its age and usage.

In spite of that, Austin said, the city and the Parks and Recreation Department have wanted to replace the old surface for the past couple of years.

"This year, the funding was available, and it was a priority of the facilities director and the mayor, so it all happened," Austin said.

Finding a five- to six-week window to allow to happen among the 400-plus events was another story.

"We were a little worried about the commitment to the Bellingham United to allow them to finish their season and get it done before the high school football season starts (on Sept. 6, when Sehome hosts Nooksack Valley)," Hatch said. "But as it turns out, that's kind of a slower point of the year for us, so it gave us enough of a window that we could get it done. ... We still get a lot of walk-in users that like to run on the track or kick of the surface, but we've had to close it to everyone for six weeks. The facility has to be completely closed during construction, and we appreciate everyone's understanding with that."

Hatch said another casualty of the construction process has been the Parks and Recreation Department's All-Comers Track meets, which saw its summer schedule shortened to accommodate the work this summer.

But by the time early September roles around, it should all seem worth it.

Not only will local football and soccer teams enjoy the new surface, but it also will be lined for lacrosse, opening the field up for even more use.

Hatch said he hopes the new field also will combat the lakes that start to form in both end zones - particularly the east - during heavy rain.

"As part of the process, we pulled up a section in the spring to take a look underneath, and all the drains looked OK," Hatch said. "Over time, compaction and the holes underneath the carpet get plugged up, and it doesn't drain as quick. We hope this will help us get those problems fixed as well."

NOTABLE SPRINTURF FIELDS

A look at some of the more than 800 facilities that Civic Stadium will join when Sprinturf is installed later this week:

SiteSports
Central Missouri State Football
Concordia University (St. Paul, Minn.)Football/soccer
Dacotah Field (North Dakota State University)Football/soccer
Dickinson (N.D.) State UniversityFootball
Franklin Field (University of Pennsylvania)Football
Greene Stadium (Howard University)Football
Hoover (Ala.) High SchoolFootball
Kansas City Chiefs indoor/outdoor practice fieldsFootball
Los Angeles Valley CollegeFootball
Maymoor Park (Redmond)Soccer/baseball/softball
Memorial Stadium (University of North Dakota)Football
Oral Roberts University (Tulsa, Okla.)Baseball
Rip Miller Field (U.S. Naval Academy)Soccer/lacrosse
Robinson Stadium (Pasadena City College)Football/soccer
Sacred Heart (Conn.) UniversityFootball/soccer
Spalding Field (UCLA)Football
St. Mary's (Minn.) UniversitySoccer
Underhill Field (Cal)Soccer/lacrosse
University of New Haven (Conn.)Football
Ventura (Calif.) CollegeFootball
Washington Grizzly Stadium (University of Montana)Football
Whidbey Island U.S. Naval StationSoccer/lacrosse
Whittier (Calif.) CollegeFootball
Woodward Field (Eastern Washington University)Football
SOURCE: SPRINTURF.COM

Reporter Zoe Fraley contributed to this report. Reach David Rasbach at 360-715-2271 or david.rasbach@bellinghamherald.com .

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