‘You’re not going to find a better stadium out there’

by DYLAN GREENE
Sports Editor | August 8, 2020 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — After years of debate, the project to install artificial turf at War Memorial Field has finally been completed.

Parks and Recreation Director Kim Woodruff said this project was a dream of his and many others 15 years ago. He can’t believe it finally came together.

“It’s super exciting for me to see us positioning ourselves for the future,” he said. “I’m just lucky to have the job I have and lead that effort.”

The city of Sandpoint hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday afternoon to celebrate the completion of Phase 1 of the project and open the facility to the public. About 100 people showed for the event and a handful stuck around to ask questions during the open house portion of the ceremony. Several kids and adults even tested out the new field by playing catch and kicking around soccer balls.

City council members Deb Ruehle, John Darling and Kate McAlister were on hand for the event along with the many people who helped the project become a reality.

Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rognstad opened the ceremony by thanking the community for their support and feedback throughout the process.

“This is a moment, I think all of us have been looking forward to for a very long time,” Rognstad said. “This is a state-of-the-art field that is an incredible addition to our community.”

The project was completed on time and under budget and was made possible by the 1 percent local option sales tax that was passed by Sandpoint voters in 2015. Over the past four-and-half years, the tax has collected more than $5.5 million to support improvements to War Memorial Field and Barlow Stadium, Rognstad said.

“This really marks a hugely successful citizen-driven voter initiative to rebuild this whole facility to better serve the citizens of Sandpoint,” he said.

The discussion about what type of surface should be installed at the field raged on for several years, but ultimately Rognstad said the city council chose the surface that extended the playability of the field for its users.

“Those were some of the most difficult decisions that we’ve had to face as a community ever ... and I think we got the best product that we possibly could have as a community,” he said.

The field is striped for football, soccer and lacrosse and the baseball and new softball field also received turf.

City engineer Dan Tadic said the project encountered several unique design challenges including how to accommodate the Festival at Sandpoint, but he credited general contractor Wayne Jessup with J7 Contracting for being so flexible.

“Wayne just did a fantastic job keeping all those pieces moving and was just a real pleasure to work with,” Tadic said.

Rognstad said he’s looking forward to this fall sports season on the new surface and seeing the return of the Festival at Sandpoint next year. The annual summer concert series was canceled this year due to COVID-19 and was scheduled to be held this week.

Tadic said the facility is capable of supporting multiple activities simultaneously and will allow teams to get on the field earlier in the spring thanks to the new drainage system. There’s no more waiting for the field to dry out while other schools in the area are already playing outside, he said.

“This is a game changer,” he said. “As soon as the snow has melted this is playable .. until now everyone has been used to the mucky poor-drained conditions but this new generation of kids, they’re going to grow up with this and have all the advantages everyone else has. It’s pretty neat.”

To ensure setup for the Festival at Sandpoint goes smoothly, Tadic said six permanent anchors have been screwed into the ground to hold down the events tent.

“All the loading, all the wear and tear,” he said, “we needed something that was going to hold up through that.”

Tadic said Hellas Construction, the turf installer, told him War Memorial Field is now one of three high school facilities in the Pacific Northwest of this caliber.

Tadic expects the softball dugouts will be completed next week and they will be installing netting behind the field goal posts soon. The baseball dugouts will be a part of Phase 2 of the project. The bid for Phase 2 will be sent out in September and awarded in early October, Tadic said.

There isn’t a timeline set for Phase 2 yet but Tadic hopes to have it completed by Memorial Day, just in time for the spring infill into Lake Pend Oreille.

Phase 2 includes parking lot expansion, a new boat launch and restroom, a boat washing station, a kayak launch and improved stormwater treatment.

Woodruff said the city has received over $400,000 in grants this year toward the construction of Phase 2. In the future, Woodruff wants to add a dog park and expand access to the lake.

Sandpoint football head coach Ryan Knowles was on hand for the ceremony and he said the field looks beautiful.

Knowles remembers standing on the sidelines at War Memorial Field when he was 6 years old and he can’t wait for his players to get on the new field in the coming weeks.

“You’re not going to find a better stadium out there,” he said. “It’s just amazing what this town can do and the support it has for its kids ... It’s very humbling to be the head coach of the Bulldogs at a time like this.”

The first practice on the field is set for Wednesday. The facility is open to the public 24 hours a day and the city showed off the field’s new LED lights Friday night.

“Not only is it very energy efficient, but it looks pretty tight, too,” Rognstad said about the lights.

photo

This is how the new artificial turf at War Memorial Field looks from the Barlow Stadium grandstands.

photo

A kid tosses a football on the new artificial turf at War Memorial Field on Friday afternoon. A handful of people tested out the surface following the ceremony.

photo

The city turned on the new LED lights at War Memorial Field from 8:30-10 p.m. last night.