War Memorial artificial turf plan scrapped

Plans for replacing the grass at the War Memorial Stadium with artificial turf have been nixed due to its high cost, a county official said Tuesday.

The project went out to bid in the spring, with bids coming back in early April for about $1.5 million, said county spokesman Rod Antone. The cost of the entire project, including design, originally was estimated at about $1 million, according to previously published reports.

A state grant gave Maui County $920,000 – of which $135,400 has been spent on a design contract – for the artificial turf project at the stadium, according to Council Member Don Guzman.

Acting Parks Director Brianne Savage told The Maui News in April that the county had received four bids for the project, all of which exceeded available funding, which was at about $785,000. At the time, she said the department would need to seek more money from the County Council.

After reviewing the latest bids for the artificial turf, Antone said, it was determined that the change from grass to artificial turf was “not cost effective.”

“Maintaining the grass field is the most cost effective,” he said.

The switch to artificial turf also raised concerns about the county’s ability to attract “high quality” sporting events, Antone said.

Now that the county knows how much the installation of artificial turf will cost, it makes more sense to put more resources into maintenance and training, he said. The field “is going to be properly maintained,” he added.

Guzman, chairman of the council committee that handles parks department requests, was caught off guard by the decision to nix the artificial turf project. He said he had not been in touch with the parks department since Mayor Alan Arakawa issued a directive last week prohibiting council members from direct contact with administration officials. He said he learned about the decision on the artificial turf Tuesday from a soccer coach.

“I have not been in communication with the parks department (because of the directive),” said Guzman, who chairs the council Economic Development, Energy, Agriculture and Recreation Committee. “Just found out last night; I was surprised. Because of this memo, I cannot directly communicate with the parks department.”

He told The Maui News on Wednesday that if the parks department had come to the council with a request for more money for the artificial turf he would have supported it. In fact, the question of whether the county should spend extra money on the artificial turf could have been aired in his committee with the public and users weighing in.

“I would hope the parks department comes in with a budget amendment,” he said.

“I am going to look into this,” he added.

The proposed switch to artificial turf was aimed at reducing maintenance while having a quality field at the county’s largest sporting venue and was in keeping with a statewide trend at many schools on Oahu, a local sports official said. Several years ago, after a state high school football playoff game in the rain, the grass was so torn up that the field was closed for the winter for repairs.

The current grass field is used for a myriad of events, including Maui Interscholastic League eight-player and 11-player football games, Pop Warner contests, soccer and track-and-field competitions at multiple levels, and nonsporting events, including graduation ceremonies.

The Beach Boys have played there, and the Dalai Lama spoke at the Wailuku stadium.

The stadium opened in 1969, replacing the old Fairgrounds as the site of high school football games and track-and-field events. It seated about 7,000 people then.

In 1998, then-Maui County Mayor Linda Lingle helped bring the nationally televised Hula Bowl to the War Memorial Stadium, which was expanded into a bowl configuration by adding seating behind the end zones. The expanded stadium seats more than 20,000 people. The Hula Bowl run ended with declining attendance and fewer high-profile players and returned to Aloha Stadium on Oahu in 2006.

The move to put in artificial turf began in November with the closing of bids for the installation at the stadium. The plan at the time was to install the turf during winter, but a redesign of the runway for long jump, triple jump and pole vault, in part to make the field wider for soccer, led to the re-bidding of the project in April and a delay in the installation.

A revised plan had the installation planned for the summer, right after graduation and completed before the start of the high school football season. The latest plan was for the installation of the artificial turf in the winter after the Pop Warner Turkey Bowl on Thanksgiving weekend.

Now, there are no plans for installing artificial turf at the War Memorial Stadium.

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.