The Fort Lewis College women’s softball team will be playing its opening weekend this Saturday and Sunday, and possibly subsequent weekends, in Aztec, New Mexico, due to the $3 million renovation project to the FLC softball complex being delayed.
Last season, the softball team was forced to drive 45 minutes away to Aztec for every home game.
The final things that need to be completed on the field construction are finishing touches to all three of the fields, including Aspen, the game field, Andrew said.
“The project is like 95 percent complete,”Lynne Andrew, senior associate athletic director, said. “The last step is some finishing touches to the infield on all three fields, not just our game field of Aspen.”
The delay on the project came when the contractors on the job, Colorado Jaynes Construction Corperation, found an old water line in the fall of 2017 that ran through two of the fields, Jeremiah Hayes, Colorado Jaynes project manager, said.
“It ended up being a very shallow water line,” Hayes said. “So, the water line needed to be deepened and realigned. I don’t know how old that water line was but it was very, very old and it was a liability for the city to keep it in place. It would not had met code had we just covered over the top of it. I mean, it was inches deep and it is one of the main water lines to the south of the city.”
The realignment of the water line caused a delay in the placement of the sod, Hayes said.
“During construction, when something happens like that, you ask the question and then engineers need to get involved,” Hayes said. “They have to figure out how they are going to fund it and that basically stopped all of the sod work.”
The renovations began at the end of last March and were scheduled to be completed this month so that the softball team could play its entire season at home.
“We’ve got to put our heads down and go with what we’ve got,” Elle Fracker, head softball coach, said. “There is a lot of excitement around getting to play at our home field after having a whole year of being elsewhere. It’s something that you definitely take for granted when you have it right here.”
The Jaynes Corp. was not anticipating the weather that Durango has been having this winter. The mild winter has also caused a delay due to the lack of moisture to the sod that has been attempting to grow, Andrew said.
The Jaynes Corp. hires engineers to take care of the grass and the sodding process, Hayes said.
“They specify a certain grow-in period for the root zones of that grass,” Hayes said. “Part of those specifications are that there has to be a certain amount of time for those roots to go a certain depth in the ground, so that is more or less what it it predicated on.”
The field is soft and there is a lip in between when the dirt meets the grass, Fracker said.
The lip and the softness causes the balls to take weird bounces, Andrew said.
“With a project that is pretty big like this there are very specific things that you need for softball or baseball field,” Fracker said. “I don’t think they were anticipating the lack of moisture.”
It has been confirmed by Andrew that the first home games of the year, which are this Saturday and Sunday against Colorado Mines, will be played in Aztec.
Next weekend, March 3 and 4, is also a scheduled home weekend for softball, this one against Colorado Christian University. Andrew does not yet know if the team will play these games at FLC or in Aztec as of yet.
Following those first two weekends, the softball team goes on the road for the next two weeks to play at Metro State University and then against Regis University before they return home on March 24 and 25 to play Adams State.
“I think that is a great plan,” Andrew said. “If we have to end up playing our first two weekends in Aztec, as a worst-case scenario, but after that, we have a plan.”
For the softball team, playing in Aztec is an inconvenience but the team tried to make the best of it last year. They will do the same for as long as they are displaced this year, Fracker said.
The travel has an impact on the team because it is a long way to travel for a home game, and it messes with the routine of the squad, Fracker said.
“It’s definitely difficult,” Tristen Gilbert, a senior softball player, said. “We are managing. We still get to go out there and practice, but it’s definitely a different feel. Hopefully, we can play out there soon.”
The softball team will not be the only team put out by the delay in the renovations. Both the men’s and women’s soccer teams, the women’s lacrosse team, and multiple recreation leagues in the town of Durango will be displaced for longer because of this delay, Andrew said. All of these teams normally use the fields for practice or to play their own seasons.