Games canceled or postponed. Students traveling away to perform. Families spending money elsewhere during events. These are all factors officials, community members and students want people to consider when they think about a new artificial turf athletic field in Lodi.
In recent years, coaches, students and Lodi School District officials have seen the hassle the current high school stadium field causes. When constructed back in the 1990s, the field was intended to only be used for football games, meaning athletes would only rough it up four or five times per year. However, with the growth of school sports and other opportunities for local students, the field’s condition has deteriorated over time due to more activity and worse weather.
District Administrator Chuck Pursell, who remembers when the current Lodi High School stadium field was created, said back then nobody was thinking about how sports programming and other student activities like marching band would expand, leading to a more intensive schedule for the venue.
“It’s a case of new technology, new times and the expansion of all these opportunities for kids that have made grass fields obsolete,” Pursell said.
After years of drainage issues and wet conditions, school officials and community members say something needs to be done soon. According to David Puls, Lodi High’s head football coach, having to change the venue of the football team’s Homecoming game in 2018 and its Senior Night game in 2019 were some of the final drivers in the realization that a major change to the field needs to occur.
According to Lodi High School Principal Vince Breunig, the football team received plastic sheeting from a concrete company to cover the field in order to keep it dry for a playoff game in 2017. Before that, in 2009, water issues with the field led to an even more unique Band-Aid solution – according to Puls, a pilot from the Madison area was hired to hover his helicopter over the field in an attempt to air dry extremely wet areas at the stadium.
Savannah Curtis, a 2018 LHS graduate who played football and soccer, recalled sinking three or four inches into the ground during a soccer game on the field her sophomore year.
“There are divots everywhere,” Curtis said. “It’s super uneven ground. People are going to get hurt out there.”
Logan Richards, a current LHS senior and football player, said both his brother and he were injured due to muddy settings.
Additionally, Richards expressed the disappointment he felt when the football team had to compete at Waunakee’s stadium during this year’s Senior Night due to poor field conditions. It’s a sentiment Elizabeth TenBarge, another LHS senior, shared, too. She said her final marching band performance was also moved elsewhere.
“To play my last band performance on someone else’s field was not what I had hoped for,” TenBarge said.
The stadium issues don’t impact only athletes, TenBarge said, who described band students’ frustrations.
“We’ve had limited access to our performance space, the field,” she said. “That’s really detrimental when trying to teach people how to do everything properly and create that cohesive sound when you’re not out there doing it where you should be.”
Ultimately these experiences and many others have led to a recent fundraising push to install an artificial turf field at the Lodi High School stadium. Toward the end of 2019, district officials and community members began a campaign to raise $800,000 toward the total estimated $1.3 million cost. The Lodi School Board committed to borrowing money for the remaining $500,000.
As of late last week, the fundraising efforts have raised approximately $150,000 through community and business support, according to Breunig. The school district is currently going through the bidding process for the project, with bids due later this month. Pursell anticipates the $1.3 million price tag may decrease after the precise costs are calculated from the bids, based on information he’s seen about similar projects in the state.
If the $800,000 is not raised by early February, Pursell said the project could be postponed as the School Board decides its next move. The goal was to have the funds raised early in 2020 in order to get the new field constructed in time for this fall’s sports season. The school board will take up the topic at its February meeting.
Businesses see new field as local asset
An artificial turf field in Lodi would allow people to use the stadium for three seasons a year, Puls said, who called it the “best venue” in the city.
Currently, only football and soccer players are its main users. The project would make it possible for other athletes, like high school baseball and softball players, to practice there. Additionally, youth sport participants, cheerleaders and band members could use the turf field and summer classes, physical education courses and CREW activities could be held there.
In addition to expanding the field’s usage, Puls said there are cost benefits to a turf stadium, especially when compared to the monies spent to maintain the grass now. He noted during dry spells in the summer the current field must be watered and how the poor conditions have led to the district purchasing special equipment, like a topdressing machine.
Despite the project having a large cost upfront, Pursell said over the lifespan of the artificial turf field – about 12 to 15 years – the district would likely end up saving money, based on the yearly expenses for field upkeep now.
It’s not only students, coaches and school district officials who support the stadium change – some members of Lodi’s business community agree with the need.
Beau Lane, an area real estate agent, said the turf field would be another asset in Lodi, helping to attract new residents.
“The field is just a piece of the bigger picture,” Lane said.
F&F Home Construction’s Karla Faust, who is helping to lead the fundraising campaign, said the new amenity would build toward Lodi’s future.
“I firmly believe this is moving our community forward, allowing us to bring more families into our community, which brings us more people to our downtown businesses and helps our tax base,” Faust said. “It’s not just, ‘Well the high school needs this.’ It’s our community that needs this.”
Breunig said local businesses feel more of a financial impact than the district does when games have to be moved elsewhere or canceled. He said athletic events lead to people spending time in the area, whether it be a family eating dinner after a football game or shopping downtown in between games during a soccer tournament.
The project could also benefit local businesses as some may submit winning bids on pieces of the construction, from concrete work to supplying fencing. According to Faust, that factor could also significantly decrease the estimated $1.3 million price tag, which would in turn lessen the amount needed to be raised by the community. She said the original estimates for the project included prevailing wage numbers and other data, most of which did not incorporate local contractor information.
Stephanie Schmidt, of Brian Schmidt Enterprises, said area companies want to have a role in the community’s momentum.
“We all have to support each other and the school is a business, as well, so we’re all supporting each other,” Schmidt said.
In order to further the fundraising efforts, an event will be held at KD’s Bar and Grill on Sunday, Jan. 19, 11:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
During the occasion, individuals will be able to participate in a live auction for larger prize items, like a hunting blind. There will also be a 50/50 raffle, raffle baskets and other activities. Additionally, KD’s will be donating a portion of their proceeds during the event to the fundraiser.
For more information about the upcoming event, visit the Lodi Blue Devils Stadium Facebook page. Details about the stadium field fundraising can be found at www.lodi.k12.wi.us