Turf at War Memorial Field nears completion

by DYLAN GREENE
Sports Editor | July 18, 2020 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — The project to install artificial turf at War Memorial Field has been years in the making, but is now finally starting to take shape.

The cement foundation has solidified and the turf has been laid down. Workers this week have been sewing on the numbers and hash marks on the football field as the home opener for the team on Aug. 28 nears.

It’s all coming together and Sandpoint Athletic Director Kris Knowles loves how it looks.

“To see it now, it’s amazing to me and it strikes me as being very fortunate to be here,” he said.

City Engineer Dan Tadic gave an update on the project at the July 1 city council meeting and said everything is going as planned except for the natural rubber and cork mix the council selected for the artificial turf.

Tadic said the infill was unavailable due to the impact of the coronavirus.

“Supply chain issues have rendered that availability at best uncertain in the future, so much so that they may not even continue their product line anymore,” he said.

Luckily, the project’s second highest rated all-natural infill material consisting of cork and sand solution was available and it will be put on the field in the next few weeks.

Tadic said the cancellation of this year’s Festival at Sandpoint has allowed them to move ahead with installing dugouts that would be available for the softball and baseball teams to use next spring, a project that was originally scheduled for phase two.

One of the biggest problems with Memorial Field in the past has been the drainage. Some seasons, the softball and baseball teams have had to wait until early or mid-April for the field to dry out.

Tadic said the heavy rain they experienced in late June and on the day of the meeting provided a great test for the new drainage system that has been installed. He added the percolation tests performed above average.

“Historically, had we experienced the rain like this with the original natural surface, we may have been looking at several days of an unplayable surface,” he said. “This is really going to make a difference for generations of kids in this community.”

Artificial vs. natural turf debate

The decision to install artificial turf over natural turf at Memorial Field was met with plenty of resistance. Mayor Shelby Rognstad broke a tie at a city council meeting in October to approve the plan and many in the community were hesitant to change the surface, including the Festival at Sandpoint, which hosts its annual concert series on the field.

Throughout the process, Knowles said he understood people’s concerns, but he respectfully disagreed.

“My job and my personality is to support youth sports and I think this does that,” he said.

With the previous surface, Knowles said the field conditions would vary for the football team’s home opener and there would still be indents from the tents used during the Festival at Sandpoint.

“The maintenance crew does a phenomenal job, but it wasn’t the safest field in North Idaho,” he said. “Then as the season progresses — dependent on weather — it can be hard as a rock, a mud bowl or anything in between. That, from a risk management perspective, is dangerous.”

Knowles said the artificial turf provides a more consistent surface and mitigates safety concerns, which will hopefully allow Sandpoint to host night soccer games at Memorial Field.

Knowles said he’s read probably as much as anybody about the positives and negatives of artificial and natural turf and would argue the new surface is better than even the best natural grass.

“There’s no way this site could have sustained even the greatest natural surface,” he said.

The surface won’t last forever, but Knowles said it will sustain the usage.

History, future of War Memorial Field

Knowles took over as AD in 2012. He remembers coming to Memorial Field when he was a student at Coeur d’Alene to play American Legion baseball games and seeing the special setting Sandpoint offered.

In his first year on the job, Knowles remembers sitting in the press box for a boys soccer game against Lake City when out of nowhere a typical North Idaho storm rolled through. The power went out everywhere except at Memorial Field. The stadium turned into a beacon of light and Knowles recalls seeing people from nearby neighborhoods flocking to the field and standing outside the fence.

That is a memory of the field Knowles will never forget and he believes the artificial turf will only grow the amount of memories created at the venue.

“Everyone’s got a Memorial Field story whether it’s a great one or a mud bowl,” he said.

Knowles said the history of the field is ingrained and embedded in the community and generations of families have taken pride in being associated with the stadium.

With Lake Pend Oreille in the background, Knowles compared the current venue to the University of Washington’s Husky Stadium, which is located on the water in downtown Seattle, and a stadium in Gold Beach, Oregon, that overlooks the Pacific Ocean.

“To see it evolve from what I remember as a youth,” he said, “to what it was when I first got here in 2012 — which was really a condemned stadium with a terrible surface — to what it is in 2020 which is ... the pinnacle of athletic facilities in the state of Idaho.”

Knowles said going back to World War II, the field has been dedicated to providing youth with a place to play and he plans on having as many youth activities, games and practices on the field as possible. He said his inbox has already been flooded with emails asking when the first game on the new turf will be played.

“This is a generational change,” he said.

Prior to installing the artificial turf, Knowles had representatives from the Idaho High School Activities Association tour the facility to discuss potentially hosting state soccer, softball and baseball tournaments in the future.

Nothing official was set in stone but with the updated venue and newly installed LED lights, Knowles could see Memorial Field hosting a state tournament in about four years.

“They haven’t given me a stamp that says you’re in, but I’ve had really positive conversations about it,” he said.

Aly De Angelus contributed to this article.

Dylan Greene can be reached by email at dgreene@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow him on Twitter @DylanDailyBee.

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A worker sews in hash marks on the new artificial turf Wednesday.

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(Photo by DYLAN GREENE) The artificial turf at War Memorial Field has been put down and workers are putting the finishing touches on the new surface as the start of the football season nears.

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(Photo by DYLAN GREENE) A worker picks up hash marks at War Memorial Field on Wednesday.