Civic Stadium drainage issues could create need for early-season scheduling changes


Squalicum cheerleaders slide through a puddle after a football game against Ferndale at Civic Stadium in this 2003 photo. Civic Stadium may have to wait a week or two to debut its new Sprinturf surface because of drainage issues.


With more than 400 events scheduled annually at Bellingham's Civic Stadium, finding a four- to six-week window in which to replace the 13-year-old artificial playing surface without disrupting many scheduled games was tough enough.

But it got a whole lot tougher when that window needed to increase by as much as two weeks.

Civic Stadium may have to wait a week or two to debut its new Sprinturf surface after an extra step was added in the middle of the installation process to help the new surface drain rain water better than the surface it is replacing. With the start of the high school fall sports season less than 31/2 weeks away, as many as four football games and a girls' soccer game possibly could have to be moved to other sites or rescheduled.

"It's a big deal," Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department recreation manager Greg Hatch said in a phone interview. "We realize high school football is a big deal and there are limited options where you can play that sport. But by the same token, we don't feel like we should throw down the new surface over something that is not draining properly."

Civic's drainage problems in recent years have not been a secret.

Anybody who has watched or played a game in a steady Pacific Northwest rain is well aware of the small pond that forms in the west end zone and the large lake that usually covers the entire east end of the field out to about out to the 30-yard line.

In preparation for the installation of the new surface last spring, Hatch said the Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department pulled up portions of the old turf to check for drainage issues and didn't find any. Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department project engineer Gina Gobo Austin said the drains underneath the surface also were checked with cameras to look for obstructions, but received a clean bill of health.

With those tests checking out, Hatch said they figured the drainage problems were caused by the compaction of the sand and rubber particles that are part of the top layer of the surface over 13 years of heavy use on the old turf.

But once the old turf was removed last month, thorough tests were possible, revealing that though the base material was still in good shape, it wasn't draining at the desired rate, Gobo Austin said.

"Part of our contract with Sprinturf was to certify the base material before the new material was placed," Gobo Austin said in a phone interview. "We compared it to the tests that were done in 2000 (when the surface was originally installed for Civic's first turf field), and it had not broken down or compacted. It's in good shape, but it's not draining as fast as we would like. Since we're putting a new field in place that we figure will last for the next 10-plus years, we want to make sure that we get it to drain as good as we possibly can."

To do so, Sprinturf has brought in a subcontractor, Premier Field Development, Inc., to "scarify" the base material, or turn it with a blade and fluff it to create more void space for it to drain water off the artificial turf.

Gobo Austin said the extra step will add about $47,000 to the price tag for the project, which originally weighed in at less than $400,000. The project, which included $180,000 from Western Washington University and $300,000 from the 1997 Beyond Greenway levy, had $80,000 in contingency funds, which should more than cover the added expense.

Time, on the other hand, is another issue, especially with the start of the high school football season bearing down on Sept. 6.

"We were originally contracted with Sprinturf for a Sept. 6 completion date," Gobo Austin said. "Now the contract is for it to be completed by Sept. 20."

Gobo Austin said it should take three to four days for Premier Field, Inc., to scarify the base material, and work is scheduled to begin by Monday, Aug. 19, though she said they're hopeful to begin Friday, Aug. 16.

After the scarifying is completed, Sprinturf can resume installing the new surface, which Gobo Austin said has already been manufactured and is ready to ship as soon as the base surface is ready.

"Sprinturf obviously has an interest in getting it done as soon as they can so they can move on to other projects," Gobo Austin said. "They're ready to get the new surface delivered, and they want to get their work done."

Hatch said the estimated time for installation of the new surface once that process begins is 21/2 to three weeks, weather permitting.

"We're obviously a little behind schedule right now, and we're nervous about what will happen if there are anymore blips in the road," Hatch said.

Even without any blips, it may be difficult to get the project completed by Sept. 6, when Sehome is scheduled to host Nooksack Valley in its football season opener. A day later, Bellingham is scheduled to host Mount Baker.

"Last spring, we talked to Mount Baker and had preliminary talks with them about something like this happening," Bellingham athletic director Chad Larsen said in a phone interview. "Mount Baker said they were available and we could move the game there if we needed them. When Parks and Rec told us about the problem yesterday (Tuesday, Aug. 13), we resumed those talks and started looking at Week 2."

Sehome athletic director Colin Cushman could not be reached for comment, but it's likely the Mariners have already looked at similar options with Nooksack Valley.

If necessary, week 2 games also likely could be shifted to other sites, as Sehome is scheduled to host Ferndale on Sept. 13 and Squalicum a day later will host Sedro-Woolley, which also is installing its first artificial surface this summer.

But things would get tricky in Week 3 if turf installation is not completed, as Bellingham is scheduled to host Squalicum on Sept. 20.

Squalicum's non-conference game against Sehome is the only girls' soccer game scheduled for Civic Stadium before Sept. 20, but there are a number of other facilities to stage a soccer game.

The only other high school event scheduled for Civic Stadium before the Sept. 20 contracted completion date is the Sehome Invitational cross country meet. Even though the meet is not actually run on the artificial surface, Civic Stadium remains closed during the project.

"We're crossing our fingers right now," Larsen said. "We're planning for the worst and hoping for the best. We know they're doing the best they can to make it happen as fast as they can."

And when it is completed, the Parks and Recreation Department and everyone who uses the field hopes they will have a surface capable of handling anything Mother Nature drops on it here in Pacific Northwest.

"We're happy about the project," Austin Gobo said. "We're happy to have the new field. It will be great when we get it all done."

Reach David Rasbach at or 360-715-2286.


The contracted completion date of Civic Stadium's new artificial surface has been pushed back from Sept. 6 to Sept. 20. A look at high school sporting events that could possibly be affected:

Date Event Sport

Sept. 6 Nooksack Valley vs. Sehome Football

Sept. 7 Mount Baker vs. Bellingham Football

Sept. 12 Squalicum vs. Sehome Girls' soccer

Sept. 13 Ferndale vs. Sehome Football

Sept. 14 Sedro-Woolley vs. Squalicum Football

Sept. 17 Sehome Invitational Cross country

NOTE: Squalicum and Bellingham are scheduled to play football on Sept. 20.

Reach DAVID RASBACH at or call 715-2271.

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