Installation of artificial turf at stadium delayed again

The installation of artificial turf at War Memorial Stadium, the island’s largest sporting venue, will be delayed again, this time until the end of the Maui Interscholastic League football season and the Pop Warner Turkey Bowl at Thanksgiving.

Work is expected to begin in December on the facility that once hosted the Hula Bowl and the Dalai Lama, said Brianne Savage, county Department of Parks and Recreation deputy director. The project should be completed by March, in time for the MIL track season.

During the conversion from grass to turf, the stadium field and possibly the surrounding areas used by the public for walking and jogging will be blocked off. Closure of the nonfield areas will be dependent on the requirements of the work, Savage said in an email last week.

The county is reviewing four bids for the project. Bids closed April 2. The project is exceeding available funds, so the department will need to seek more money from the County Council, Savage said.

Originally estimated at about $1 million, according to previous reports, there is currently $784,600 remaining from state-allocated funds, she said. A $135,400 design contract already has been awarded to Fukunaga & Associates.

The original timeline called for the switch from grass to turf to occur last winter, but modifications that called for a longer runway for the long jump, triple jump and pole vault led to delays, Savage said in December. The single runway – instead of the two currently on each sideline – will allow for a wider soccer field that could host a state tournament, she said.

The installation was rescheduled for after the high school graduations in May, with completion expected before the beginning of the MIL football season in August. The stadium hosts the Baldwin and Maui High graduations.

With the bid closing in early April, it was apparent that the turf installation would have to be rescheduled again. Savage pointed out that the installation of turf at the Wailuku stadium is the county’s first and that turf technology is changing rapidly.

“Parks wants to see this project move forward as quickly as possible so that we ultimately can have more usage of this facility; however we want to ensure it is done properly with the best possible final results,” Savage said.

During council committee deliberations, councilors urged the department to invest in a durable, “high-quality end product,” she said.

To that end, Savage said that her department has had to do some additional research and rewrite some of the turf specifications. An additional cost factor was the need to have the field accommodate nonathletic events, such as high school graduations. There will be a need to cover portions of the turf for graduations, she said.

“This is the first time we are implementing turf,” said county spokesman Rod Antone. “We are kind of learning as we go, and we want to make sure we are doing it right.”

Savage said that the department has had multiple meetings with the MIL, high school coaches and youth leagues that use the stadium.

“Parks is working to minimize the impact of having the facility out of commission for the period of time needed to do this transition from natural to artificial turf,” she said.

The MIL sport affected by the winter closure will be boys and girls soccer. War Memorial Stadium is the home field for the Baldwin Bears and the St. Anthony Trojans.

A supporter of the move to a turf field, MIL Executive Director Joe Balangitao said that the soccer games can be moved to Keopuolani Park or Maui High fields.

“To me, it’s worth it. . . . It will benefit everybody,” Balangitao said.

Grass is still better, but “it’s hard to maintain,” he said. Several years ago, after a state high school playoff game in the rain, the grass was so torn up that the field was closed for the winter for repairs. Artificial turf offers less maintenance, and “it’s better for everybody,” Balangitao said, adding that many schools on Oahu are switching their fields to turf.

The surface has gotten a lot better and safer than when he played on artificial turf during his athletic days, said the star Baldwin quarterback in the late 1960s and early 1970s, who later returned to guide the team as its head football coach. His first experience on artificial turf was in 1973, he said, adding that it was like playing on cement.

Scott Soldwisch, athletic director of Lahainaluna High School, which recently installed a turf field, said in a Letter to the Editor in The Maui News in December that “artificial surfaces of today are nothing like the surfaces which first came out in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

“The advancements since that time have made these fields safer than most natural grass fields.”

Balangitao said he hopes the turf field will be in place by track season, but “we are going have some contingency plan.”

* Lee Imada can be reached at