The Lawrence High School Lions football team stepped onto its new home turf for the first time Monday morning.
The upgrades to the high school athletic facilities means football, soccer, baseball and softball teams all have their own turfed fields to practice and compete on.
The Lions found that grass isn’t always greener.
“(The turf) feels better because Haskell (Stadium) was just horrible in my mind,” said LHS senior Taylor Coleman. “It’s cool to play in the stadium but that field was just bad.”
The softer turf was a pleasant surprise to both athletes and head coach Dirk Wedd.
“Kids can’t believe how soft it is,” he said.
And while there was some contention from neighbors near LHS, Wedd thinks the money spent on the upgrades is worth it.
“We’re going to have a lot of kids out here every day using this,” Wedd said. “It makes the Lawrence High kids feel better about themselves.”
Also, the upgrades aren’t costing the district as much as originally planned.
Kathy Johnson, the district’s finance director, said at the April 13 school board meeting that the total cost of the projects started at close to $19 million. Now, the estimate is closer to $15 million, including restroom renovations at both LHS and Central Junior High.
“The downturn is helping us in these projects,” said district facility planning director Tom Bracciano. “It’s hurting us in our general fund, but in our capital fund, it’s helping us maximize our dollar usage.”
As far as the projects go, Free State is still waiting on its soccer and softball fields to be finished. The football bleachers are being put together block by block based on a unique design by their engineer.
“Each site, they have an individual personality,” Bracciano said. “(Free State) will be kind of a bowl stadium and Lawrence High (will) be a free-standing, but they’ll have the same bleachers.”
LHS is also getting its bleachers installed and work still needs to be done on the new tennis courts, parking area, baseball, softball and soccer fields.
But Bracciano expects the work to be done by the completion date: Aug. 15.
“We’re very confident we’ll have the bleachers and all the other amenities in for Sept. 4, for the first (LHS) football game,” he said.
But just in case, Rick Gammill, director of special operations, is in talks with Haskell Indian Nations University for potential use of its stadium in the event that severe weather delays work on the outdoor fields.
“We don’t anticipate that happening, but it’s always a very good idea to have options,” Gammill said.
Even if they don’t get on the field for the first game of the season, the Lions are happy to have their own turf in their own backyard.
“It feels like my field,” said LHS senior Ben Muiller. “Haskell was great with the tradition, but this, it’s ours.”