College to consider other turf field options

The College will shift its attention away from building an artificial turf field on Upper Cole Field and start exploring other locations for the field, President Schapiro told the Record yesterday. Strong reactions from segments of the community caused the College to reexamine the Upper Cole location, commonly known as Poker Flats, and Schapiro said he now considers that site a “last resort.”

“Given what we learned about the difficulty of scheduling club and intramural athletics, we are actively looking to pursue another location,” Schapiro said. “We are encouraged by and actively pursuing other options.” Those locations include somewhere on Weston Field or north of the tennis courts.

The most likely option at this point is building the field on Bobby Coombs Baseball Field, sources tell the Record. The field would cover the entire baseball field, which spends much of the Spring unplayable due to wet weather.

The College will also explore the feasibility of turning the football field into a turf surface or using the field to the north of the tennis courts.

Converting the football field to turf would have two primary drawbacks. First, track and field would have to find a new location to hold javelin events. Further, in order to meet the width requirement for the artificial turf field, a wider track would have to be constructed. The current track, however, is due for renovation, and could be integraded into the turf project.

The biggest drawback to building by the tennis courts would be the difficulty of getting approval to place lights at the location, which is close to residences on Southworth St. Lighting has been a high priority for the College, as it allows students to use the field past sundown, but it has been controversial with a number of Williamstown residents.

“As was always the case, we’d like to have lights on it as it would increase the usefulness of the field to the College,” Schapiro said. “We will listen to neighborhood concerns regarding the type and number of lights.”

Putting the field on Coombs Field would have the additional benefit of giving the baseball team a field capable of withstanding rain. Last year, the baseball field was unusable until April; two years ago, over half of baseball’s home games had to be moved due to soggy conditions.

According to Dave Barnard, head coach of baseball, there are two types of turf fields, “Astroturf” and “Astrograss,” and while the first is preferable for field hockey, Astrograss is better for most other sports.

Astroturf is shorter and feels more like a carpet, while Astrograss attempts to simulate the feel of actual grass. Trinity College has an Astrograss field that it uses for football games.

“I would not be a proponent of Astroturf, but Astrograss would be fine,” said Barnard, who is an assistant coach on the football team. “We all remarked at Trinity how well it played and how well it drained. We all asked what the downside would be of doing that here.”

Chris Mason, head coach of women’s lacrosse and assistant coach of field hockey, said Astroturf is preferable for field hockey, but both surfaces can be found in the NESCAC.

“We like [the field] to be smoother, more like a carpet, than a longer grain is,” Mason said. “Regardless, it will be better than grass.”

Harry Sheehy, director of athletics, reached last night at an ECAC athletic directors’ meeting, said he would be happy to explore every option for placing the field and would get feedback when he returned to campus. He deferred to Barnard’s judgment as to whether collegiate baseball could be played on artificial turf.

“I’m happy to have the school look at any possible option to have the field built,” he said. “I have no vested interest in Poker Flats.”

The College’s decision to shift its focus away from Poker Flats was presented to the Committee on Priorities and Resources (CPR) yesterday afternoon.

Peter Just, chair of the CPR, said he was happy to have new options to consider so that the College was not forced to choose between having a field on Poker Flats or no field at all.

The next step in the process is to take the new options to Clark Companies, the contractor hired to build the field, to get an engineering estimate on the various options. Regardless, the decision to look beyond Poker Flats means the field will not be ready by the Spring, according to Just. He suggested some donors expressed an interest in having the field done this academic year, and they could be upset by the decision to delay.

“The consensus from both Senior Staff and the [CPR] was that we’d rather do this later than not right,” he said. “Since it’s now clear that this won’t be ready for the Spring, some donors might withdraw.”

According to Matty Levine ’74, one of the leaders of the effort to raise money for the artificial turf field, there would be disappointment on the part of some donors. Levine had not yet heard of any of yesterday’s developments.

“There were some people who wanted to see their sons play on the field, but the overriding goal was getting something built that is good for the College,” he said. “Everyone’s trying their hardest. We’ll get something done.”

Looking to other locations besides Poker Flats will necessarily increase the cost of the project to include costs for additional permitting, research and legal fees. Estimates indicate moving the field to Weston Baseball Field could cost up to a few hundred thousand dollars more than the $2 million allocated to the project, Just said.

Just applauded the administration for coming up with new options, but said the incident raised a couple of questions the CPR will look into. First, the CPR expressed concern about the number of recreational green spaces left on campus.

“There’s a strong feeling on the part of many of us that unregulated green spaces are really important for preserving the character of the College,” he said.

He also said he was concerned about the tension between what donors to the College want and what the community needs to have.

“I want to make sure that donors understand that we have a peculiar way of making decisions at the College that revolves around significant consultation between different groups,” Just said.

In conjunction with College Council (CC), the Gargoyle Society will hold a forum tomorrow between students and members of the administration to discuss various aspects and ramifications of the turf field project. The forum will take place at 6:45 p.m. in Biology 112.