As reported in the Sacramento BEE
“It’s like heaven out here,” says John Gallagher, the athletic director at Center High School.
Gallagher watches every day as construction winds down on a new $15 million stadium project on the Antelope campus.
The facility, scheduled to debut Oct. 2 when the Cougars play Rio Linda, will feature an artificial turf field, an eight-lane all-weather track, new lighting, bleachers to seat more than 3,000, restrooms and concession stands – all on the site where the school’s former, more austere stadium once stood.
“For the community, this is going to be a nice rallying point,” said Gallagher, the track and field coach and a former head football coach at the school. “It’s already creating a different atmosphere. The kids are excited; the faculty is excited. It’s definitely creating a buzz.”
There’s plenty of buzz across the region these days. Despite troubling economic times, a number of schools have built new stadiums or performed major upgrades, largely through voter-approved bond packages.
The Elk Grove Unified School District has poured more than $10 million into field and track makeovers at its four community stadiums. The El Dorado Union School District has invested a similar amount in installing artificial surfaces at Oak Ridge, Ponderosa, El Dorado and Union Mine, part of Measure Q’s $66 million school bond passed by voters last June.
Davis High’s Halden Field is undergoing a $1.5 million renovation that will include new lighting, a scoreboard and synthetic field and track.
Next month, groundbreaking is expected to take place on a $22 million City of Sacramento-Sacramento City Unified School District sports complex on the Burbank High campus. The $7.9 million first phase – the project’s centerpiece – will be a new lighted, synthetic turf stadium with an all-weather track, bleachers, concession stands and restrooms.
Nearly 44 percent of area high school stadiums now have all-weather surfaces.
The reasons are simple: reduced maintenance costs, increased class and extracurricular school use and potential revenues in renting to outside youth and adult organizations.
“Our track already gets a lot of use by people in the community,” Ponderosa athletic director Tyson Escobar says. “But now it’s even more of a focal point.”
From a football coach’s perspective, the improved sand- and rubber-based synthetic surfaces make for a safer, more aesthetically pleasing product on the field.
“The biggest thing I’ve noticed is how it has cut down on the number of injuries,” said Folsom coach Kris Richardson.
Folsom, Cordova and Oakmont featured the first area school stadiums to install artificial turf in 2003.
“At the old campus, the grass field wasn’t in great shape, not because the district didn’t try to take care of it, but just from overuse,” Richardson said.
Folsom has developed one of the area’s most potent spread offenses, something complemented by the flat synthetic surfaces that still play fast in rainy weather.
“I know there are some old-school types who think mud football is the way it should be,” Richardson said. “But a muddy field is not good for the game.”
At El Dorado High, having a new football field at one of the area’s oldest schools is a huge lift not only for a struggling football program but for the entire Placerville school.
“Every team, every school should have something like this,” said Cougars athletic director Joe Volek. “It’s even impacted our P.E. classes. We have kids finishing the mile run because they love to run on the track now.”
But are the field-and-track packages worth the costly initial outlay of $2 million to $3.5 million?
Patty McClellan, facilities manager for the El Dorado school district, said the new tracks installed at three schools should last for 20 years; the turf fields 10 to 12 years.
“We’re going to save on mowing, fertilizer and seed, but down the road you have to replace it,” McClellan said. “So does it pencil out? Some say yes, some say no. But we feel we made a good decision because of the increased educational uses and the health and fitness of our community.”
Gallagher said the new Center stadium is bringing pride back to a school where, he believes, sports is a haven for teens in a neighborhood that has its share of struggles. It’s also helping the school, which opened in 1983, stay competitive with nearby Antelope High, a Roseville Unified School District campus that opened last year.
“The new stadium gives us a little more identity,” Gallagher said. “There is competition for kids in our area with Antelope. As a new school, they’ve got everything.”
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