A postage stamp cost 29 cents and the Toronto Blue Jays won their only World Series the last time the playing field at BREC’s Olympia Stadium was resurfaced.
The year was 1993. Since then, much has changed and BREC officials are hoping the new Olympia turf proves what a difference 18 years has made.
“In the three years I’ve been here, we’ve had to address multiple problems with the field surface,” said Mark Lee, BREC’s assistant director for park operations. “We’ve had years of difficulties associated with wet-weather conditions. So our goal had to be two-fold.
“First of all, we wanted to provide the safest playing surface possible for the athletes. And second, we wanted a surface that will hold up for the long term when there are 70 or 80 games a year. We feel like we’ve done that.”
Lee and BREC’s Sports Manager Marc Palmer, who oversees Olympia, beamed with pride as they walked across the Celebration Bermuda turf surface on Monday morning. Lee and Palmer said the project has gone so well that BREC plans to follow the same process to renovate the turf at its other major venue, Memorial Stadium, in 2012.
Key improvements include the new hybrid grass turf and something Olympia has never had before - a complete drainage system.
Though there are still finishing touches to be made, such as the addition of layers of sand, the project is more than 95 percent complete. BREC crews turned their attention to pressure washing the stadium’s bleachers and press box on Monday.
The burgeoning growth of grass on the field is the final step in a process that began on April 17. The $75,000 project started with BREC crews removing the existing turf.
Once 400 yards of top dress was added to the surface, BREC crews installed the drainage system.
It took a week for a contractor to get the drainage hardware on site. From there, BREC crews handled the installation, which also took a week. A total of 6,750 feet of multi-flow subsurface drainage apparatus was installed. The system is capable of draining 66,000 gallons of water an hour, Lee said.
“The drainage system is a huge upgrade,” Palmer said. “Most of the problems we’ve had here in recent years involved drainage.
“If you had one bad week of rain and then played on it (field) on Thursday and Friday, it was practically done for. There was no way for the surface to recover.”
Lee said the herringbone-style drain system is comparable to Division I collegiate facilities.
Once the drainage system was in place, Lee and his crew turned their attention to cultivating the grass. Celebration Bermuda is a grass Lee used during his days working at LSU. Lee said Tiger Park (softball) and LSU’s soccer field are current venues with Celebration Bermuda.
The process involved more than just putting sprigs in place. The previous Olympia field had a pronounced crown in the center. The new surface does not, though there is a difference of just over a foot in the height of the surface when measured sideline to sideline.
A two-day laser process allowed Lee and his crew to survey the ground and set down the specifics. A growing process of about six weeks followed.
While BREC is perhaps best known as a major site for high school football games, Olympia also is a home base for BREC youth football games and other activities.
Until this summer, the Premier Development Soccer League’s Baton Rouge Capitals also used Olympia as a home site. The Capitals moved to Christian Life Academy this summer.
Lee said Olympia will also be off limits in the spring and summer of 2012, giving added time for the turf to grow and mature.
No football team has played on the new turf. However, Ken Jenkins, East Baton Rouge Parish School System athletics supervisor and former Catholic High Athletic Director Pete Boudreaux have been among the visitors who have followed the renovation process.
“I’ve been in touch with Ken and Pete and sent them pictures and they’ve also been here to see what’s going on,” Palmer said. They’ve both been pleased with what they’ve seen.”