By BRETT MARSHALL
Before Tuesday's snowstorm dumped several inches of the wintry powder on Garden City, a major construction project at Clint Lightner Field had been under way for nearly a month.
The Garden City Recreation Commission, in conjunction with partial funding from USD 457, has undertaken installing Astroturf on the infield and foul territory areas of the historic baseball facility in Finnup Park.
The project calls for a complete infield coverage, along with the foul territory areas from the backstop all the way to the edge of the outfield. It is expected to be completed in early to mid-March and in time for the spring season for the Garden City High School baseball team, which plays its home games there. It also is home to the Finney County Blues and Bandits in the summer.
"We have a nice new high school for other sports and activities, and we wanted to continue to provide the same quality of facilities for our baseball program, and eventually hope to do the same for our softball team," said Garden City High School Athletic Director Martin Segovia. "In the past, we've always struggled with weather and having to reschedule games. This should allow us to complete the majority of our games without postponements or canceling games."
For John Washington, director of the GCRC, the project comes nearly two years after the board approved the plans, which also include future renovations to the entire Clint Lightner area around the field.
"We wanted to know then if the high school was going to build a new field at their new location," Washington said. "Once they said they weren't, then Martin and I looked at what we wanted to do, and then how to go about getting the funds. Once we knew that, I knew we wanted to do turf. Over the life of the turf, it will be cost effective and saves an enormous amount of time for our staff, who have had to spend countless hours preparing the infield area."
The price tag for the initial phase of the improvements, which also includes new lighting, is $455,565, and will be paid for through a 10-year loan at Commerce Bank at a rate of 2.84 percent. USD 457 is sharing in a 50-50 split the cost of the lighting, which in total is $155,000, while GCRC is underwriting the entire cost of the turf, an estimated $284,000. Funds from USD 457 have all been privately donated for the project, so no tax dollars are being used to pay for the lights out of the district budget, Segovia said.
The turf is being installed by Mid-America Turf of Lee's Summit, Mo., the same company that installed the new turf at Buffalo Stadium and also refurbished Memorial Stadium.
"They have the best turf available. They know what they are doing, and they've got experience here in Garden City," Segovia said.
The actual turf to be installed is called Astroturf Diamond R.
"It has more fibers and threads to hold sand," Washington said. "It decreases the splash when the ball hits. It was created by their own turf department."
Grading has been completed, and there is drainage being installed along with a base below the turf. Once the grading and base has been completed, Mid-America will lay the turf.
Washington said the outfield, which has a combination of different grasses, will remain a natural grass surface.
"With the speed of the infield, having a grass outfield will help slow down the ball," Washington said. "It was just going to be too cost prohibitive to turf the entire outfield, too."
Also, the new lighting will dramatically improve the ability for players to see the ball at night.
Musco Sports Lighting, LLC, of Muscatine, Iowa, the same company that installed lights at both Buffalo Stadium and the GCHS tennis complex, has been contracted for the project.
According to Washington, there will be less glare with the new lights, which will be placed on six poles. Currently, there are 58 light fixtures.
The new lighting system will include two, 80-foot poles with nine lights each in the outfield. Those will have 1,500-watt bulbs. For the infield area, there will be four, 70-foot poles, two will have seven lights and two will have eight lights. They are constructed to be able to withstand wind up to 110 mph.
Wallace Electric, LLC, of Garden City is the general contractor for the lighting project. The light poles also are being moved further away from the field to improve coverage of the entire field.
An overall master plan for the area was developed by Schwab-Eaton, P.A. of Manhattan, a civil engineering and landscape architect company. The remainder of the master plan project will be funded by the GCRC.
Eventually, the long range plans will see a new backstop installed with netting to replace the old chain-link fence. There will be a three-foot concrete backstop constructed from dugout to dugout, and it will be covered with padding.
Segovia also has raised approximately $40,000 through private donations to take one of the storage rooms under the bleachers and re-model it into a locker room for the Buffaloes. It will have lockers and an office for coach Bill Wilson, but will not have showers. Eventually, Segovia hopes to do the same on the other side for visiting teams.
Segovia said he also plans to install about 50 to 75 seat-backs in the main part of the bleacher area and then sell reserve tickets for those seats. New aluminum seats also have been installed at Lightner.
Outside the playing field, and as part of the master plan, the current parking lot, which consists of gravel, will be re-located to the south and paved, with lighting included. The current batting cages and warm-up areas will be moved to the north behind the bleachers. Those plans are likely to move ahead somewhere in the next two to four years, Washington said.
A big factor for Washington in seeing the project get started is the fact that the GCRC was paying about $7,000 per year for just water and electrical use at the field. That does not include cost of maintenance and paying employees. Over an eight-month period, Washington expects to save the commission about $6,800 per year. It also will save about $14,000 per year on mowing the infield.
The GCRC maintains 18 facilities throughout the city and there are plans under way to improve Fansler Field in Finnup Park. That will call for a grass infield for the 9-10 and 11-12 year-old summer teams. Fansler will be sodded this spring with a 70-by-70-foot area, along with installing an irrigation system. Heads on the sprinkler system will be re-set to ensure complete coverage of the field.
Washington said by upgrading facilities, Garden City will be better positioned to attract outside events. With these improvements and the already first-class facilities at Williams Stadium at Garden City Community College, Garden City has top-level facilities, he said. Plans to improve the Baseball Academy are also in the works.
"I'm really encouraged with this project," Washington said. "For the first time, I think the GCRC and USD 457 has the same vision. Communication amongst all of us has made this happen, and I think it's great for the community."
Washington is also working on signage sponsors for the outfield fence at Clint Lightner to help defray some of the expenses of the project. He already has two commitments but is looking for other corporate sponsors, or individual donors.