Sports complex renovation is taking shape
The massive renovation of the Charlie Richard Outdoor Sports Complex is more than half-completed with three fields overhauled this summer.
Baker University reorganized the layout of the baseball, softball and practice football fields at the complex between First and Third streets and Grove and High streets. The layout created more room for the baseball field, which was previously restricted by High Street to the south and Liston Stadium to the north, and improved the softball facilities.
Lights were added to both playing fields, which will allow Baker to host ball games in the evening instead of the afternoon.
"Now that we can host games in the evening, more fans and recruits can watch us play," Baker softball coach Jennifer Wright said. "The whole facility looks more professional."
The lights were also important to Baker from an academic standpoint.
"Non-academic activities should enhance the students' experience, not interfere with academic pursuits," said Jamie Comstock, vice president and dean of the College of Arts and Science. "That's why I was such a strong advocate of lights at the ball fields."
This summer's improvements are part of the second phase of the three-phase project. The $3.6-million project is considered the most significant change to Baker's outdoor sports facilities in decades, dating back to the construction of Liston Stadium in the mid-1930s.
"It improves every venue at the Charlie Richard Outdoor Sports Complex," said Bill McCollum, vice president of university relations. "All of the playing fields will be lighted, and soccer can be played at Liston Stadium. Parking is significantly improved and we preserve the historical integrity of the stadium. Upon completion, this will serve the Baker and Baldwin City communities for years to come."
The first phase of the project was completed in the summer of 2002 at Liston Stadium. The grandstand was filled with stadium seats, the Tom Hedrick Press Box was constructed and the locker room facilities beneath the grandstand were gutted and replaced. A hardier grass was planted on the field and Baldwin State Bank supplied a new scoreboard.
McCollum said the final phase, which will cost as much as the other two phases combined, should be completed next summer. The gravel parking lots on the corner of Fremont and Second streets will be paved and landscaping work will be done at the corner of High and First streets. But most importantly to local athletes will be a new eight-lane track surface and artificial turf on what will be a combination football and soccer field.
"It'll be a special place," said Ted Zuzzio, track coach at Baldwin High School.
The field at Liston Stadium is in high demand, especially in the fall when it is used by Baker's varsity and junior varsity football squads and Baldwin's junior high and varsity teams. With the new surface, the field can be in constant use and still be cheaper to maintain, McCollum said. It will eventually host soccer games, which can be played at night under the stadium lights, and it can host camps for all of Douglas County.
"It will be a quality surface throughout the year in all weather," he said. "It is a good, safe, state of the art surface that will handle the pressure."
McCollum emphasized the safety of the turf, and that it will not be the stereotypical carpet-on-concrete construction of old. The playing surface features synthetic grass on top of a deep layer of rubber pellets, which could be even softer than packed dry soil, and safer than torn-up grass turf.
"All indications are that the new generation of artificial surface is much safer, not like the old AstroTurf," McCollum said.
Baker head football coach Mike Grossner said he still has scars from the early versions of artificial turf and remembers the injuries suffered when players got a foot stuck in the zippers that held the turf together. Baker's artificial surface will not have zippers, and players can use their cleats instead of having to buy turf shoes.
"Players love the new turf," Grossner said. "It's a significant advantage in recruiting."
The eight-lane track will allow the Baker and Baldwin track teams to host championship meets and practice on a softer surface, and it will likely increase the popularity of the Baker Relays.
"We hosted a lot of regional meets when the track was first new and people loved coming here," Zuzzio said. "You have more of your own crowd, which is great."
Phase 1 at Liston Stadium
Rebuilt and expanded press box
Erected new scoreboard
Planted new grass turf
Added stadium seats to grandstand
Rebuilt locker rooms under Liston
Phase 2 at Charlie Richard Outdoor Sports Complex
Adding lights to baseball and softball fields
Expanding baseball field
Upgrading baseball and softball facilities
Phase 3 at Charlie Richard Outdoor Sports Complex
Pave parking lots on NE and SW corners of Fremont and Second streets
Resurface track, add eighth lane
Replace field's grass with artificial turf, widen surface to host soccer games