The Ascension Parish School system had hoped to have artificial turf at all four of its high school stadiums in time for football season. But an unusually rainy summer, combined with an unexpected challenge from Hurricane Ida -- a shortage of hotel rooms for the out-of-the-state crews that do the work -- has slowed progress.
Artificial turf on Dutchtown High School's football field was installed and inspected by 2 p.m. on Aug. 26, in time for an inter-squad football scrimmage later that night to kick off the Griffins' football season. That field is being used six days a week for varsity, junior varsity and freshman games for the Griffins, as well as the East Ascension Spartans and St. Amant Gators, while work continues to bring the new turf to those high schools.
The Donaldsonville High Tigers will also be getting artificial turf and are playing now at Plaquemine High.
"We are lucky and blessed to have the Dutchtown field completed," said Jeff Parent, the school district's supervisor of planning and construction.
Work began on the artificial turf at all four stadiums after graduations in May. But,"by the end of July, we had gotten more than 16 inches of rain," Parent said.
In fact, of the first 100 days work days, more than half were rained out.
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And then Hurricane Ida made landfall on Sunday, Aug. 29, and the work crews evacuating back to their home states.
"They all drove out on Saturday afternoon," Parent said.
The company providing the artificial turf, Sprinturf, is based in South Carolina, "but the workers are from all over," including Texas, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, Parent said.
One crew does the pre-installation work that includes drainage, soil stabilization and the creation of a limestone base. Another crew installs the artificial turf.
Once crews were ready to start work again after Ida, there were no hotel rooms to be found; they were full with emergency workers and evacuees.
Before the storm, the crews had 12-to-15-room blocks in a Gonzales hotel, Parent said.
"The community has been trying to figure out housing, to get them here," he said.
The company was able to find hotel rooms recently in Plaquemine, Parent said last week.
"They made some headway," he said, "We hope to begin putting turf down at St. Amant on Monday."
The St. Amant artificia -turf project is expected to be completed in about three weeks, Parent said last week. The work there included a massive dirt-work effort that raised the football field by 2 1/2 feet so rain runoff would reach the lift station that would pump it to a nearby swamp.
The fields at Donaldsonville High and East Ascension will be completed after that, he said. The new Prairieville High School will have artificial turf on its football field too, when it opens in the fall of 2023.
The artificial turf was one of the projects voters approved when they extended an existing 15.08 property tax for a $140 million bond proposal.
The school district figured the cost of installing the turf at its four high schools and the new one to come at $7.5 million, but due to a highly competitive bidding process, the low bid came in at $4.17 million.
Among the four high school stadiums, Griffin Stadium at Dutchtown High on La. 73 in Geismar is the only one located on the school campus.
The others are located at sites where the high schools were originally located: Donaldsonville High's Floyd Boutte Stadium on Clay Street in Donaldsonville; East Ascension High’s Spartan Stadium on North Burnside Avenue in Gonzales, and St. Amant High’s stadium, The Pit, on La. 729 in St. Amant.
"If we can have decent weather and hotel rooms for all the workers, we hope to have the turf in at the rest of the schools by the end of the football season," Parent said.