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Extreme makeover, Shentel Stadium edition: SU facility gets new synthetic turf

WINCHESTER “” The undertaking at Shenandoah University isn’t your average landscaping renovation. Considering that workers are in the midst of a projected 54-day assignment to excavate the old grass at Shentel Stadium and install 93,380 square feet of state-of-the-art synthetic turf, the face lift has been a bit more daunting than sprucing up the ol’ backyard. “That’s wall-to-wall carpeting is what it is,” Shenandoah athletic director John Hill said on June 5, noting that inside the boundaries of the stadium there will be no visible grass. The project, which began May 1 and is slated for an early-July completion, will be the first synthetic playing surface in the area, with hopes from school administration that the benefits will include improving the student-athlete experience, cutting down on missed class time, giving coaches an attractive recruiting tool and enhancing the gameday experience for fans. Not exclusive to the Hornets’ football team, the stadium will host home games for the men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s lacrosse and field hockey teams. “You now put six sports on a field that gives them as good a facility as anyone in our conference “” anyone in our area,” Hill said. “Our playing surface will be every bit as good as any pro surface out there.” According to Hill, Shenandoah President James Davis, once a proponent of a grass field, gave the nod for the artificial surface last summer. In December, the school issued a Request For Proposal (RFP), asking for completed submissions by mid-January. Hill said Shenandoah received eight bids, including from companies Astroturf, FieldTurf, A-Turf, Forever Green Athletic Fields, ProGrass and Sprinturf, and had a committee of individuals inspect fields “” new and old “” of each of the prospective contractors. After presentations in April, Shenandoah awarded A-Turf the contract because, Hill said, the company’s answers consistently graded at the top. The total cost of the project is approximately $750,000. “They wanted a synthetic grass system that they felt would play like a good grass field, that would provide a surface that would work well for all their different sports,” A-Turf Vice President of Sales Webb Cook said. “We have developed our system and kind of fine-tuned our system for each of our customers, but we’ve done a number of these types of projects.” A-Turf is based in Cheektowaga, NY, and completes up to 60 similar installations each summer. The company is responsible for the synthetic turf at the sites of Salisbury University, Eastern Mennonite, Franklin and Marshall, Southern Methodist and Delaware State. For its turf, Shenandoah elected a rubber and sand infill held in place by a monofilament-fiber product for the surface, which is guaranteed for eight years. Hill said the combination infill had a more “natural feel.” As of Friday, the crew ranging from four to 12 workers had set the turf and was applying the sand infill. It’s expected to be completed within weeks, with finishing touches including a fence that will encompass the premises. “We have some experience with these types of fields and trying to provide our customers with the type of product that’s going to give them excellent durability, good footing in all weather conditions and really play as close to a grass field as it can,” Webb said. *** In 2002, when he was hired as AD, Hill was asked by coaches how important the implementation of a synthetic playing surface would be for Shenandoah. His answer was honest: “With me looking around at all the other needs, it wouldn’t have been in my top five, even though it would’ve been important. After about a year or two of being here, I realized that if we had a synthetic field, I could help six sports immediately.” The Shentel Stadium of old would host approximately 12 varsity events per year, including five football and seven lacrosse games. That number is expected to rise to 60 this year, with further use of the site as an alternative practice venue. Now, six years later, behind Hill’s desk is a running count of the days remaining until the project’s completion. And as he described what the players would see as they stepped out of the locker room onto the grass-like carpet, Hill’s excitement was obvious. “We’re trying to be the best of the best,” he said. “And this facility helps us in six sports.” According to Hill, high school fields tend to range from 85,000 to 87,000 square feet, or about 6,000 to 8,000 square feet less than the area at Shentel Stadium. The increased square footage provides space for a full football field (53 1/3 yards wide) designated by white lines, men’s lacrosse and field hockey fields (60 yards wide) by blue lines and women’s lacrosse and soccer fields (70 yards wide) by red lines. Coupled with the stadium’s lighting and drainage system, the playing field will allow teams the option of practicing at night or during inclement weather, as the new turf can withstand 4 inches of rain per hour. Hill said the school spent approximately $55,000 this year on re-sodding a grass practice field on campus, excluding the cost of labor, chemicals and prep work. And Shenandoah will use the field, he said, “every available chance we can get.” *** After seeing the condition of Shenandoah’s soccer field at the conclusion of last season, head men’s soccer coach Desmond Lawless on Friday didn’t hesitate to liken the team’s fall field conditions to one of the largest and bloodiest battles of the 20th century. The field, used for practice and games by the men’s and women’s soccer teams, suffered casualties of its own “” induced by the mix of mud and metal spikes “” that bore a slight resemblance to trench warfare. “We’ve all seen pictures of the Battle of the Somme in the First World War,” Lawless said. “You could’ve [compared] that field to that.” But, Lawless, sitting in the stands at Shentel Stadium while viewing the sharp white yardage marks and volume of red, white and blue displayed prominently on the field, represents the school’s less-celebrated sports programs that are likely to benefit most by the new turf. “I think it’s made a massive difference from where we were playing before,” Lawless said. A large SU logo is ingrained at the center of the field, with telecommunications giant Sprint supplying logos on each side of the locker room. Shenandoah will have the option of painting additional logos in the end zones. “It’s just a beautiful complex,” Hill said on Friday. “We don’t play anybody in our conference, really out of conference, that will have a better facility.” Men’s lacrosse coach Brian Jenkins echoed Lawless’ satisfaction, agreeing that his program is no longer subject to scheduling disadvantages. Because of winter wear-and-tear and the field being saturated with water, the Hornets weren’t allowed to prowl the field early in the spring semester. “This will be the first year in the 10 years that I’ve been here that we’ll actually schedule a game in February,” Jenkins said. “This is going to be in pristine condition and dry and we won’t really have to worry about being able to get out here in January and February.” Football, assured by head coach Paul Barnes, will always be the marquee event at Shenandoah. Like most universities, it’s in the school’s makeup. However, according to Barnes, athletes not privy to scoring touchdowns will now have the opportunity to benefit from one of the premier facilities in the USA South Conference. Shentel Stadium was built in 2001 and has a capacity of 2,500. “It allows the other sports to be able to use a venue like this and then they can show their recruits and say, ‘Hey, we’re top-notch here,'” Barnes said. Still, there will be bonuses for the Hornets on the gridiron in preserving their practice field and playing on a consistent surface. Barnes called his squad a bunch of “mudders,” and said the turf will call for the Hornets to adapt to a speed game, which is a plan already in progress. “You look out there and you see the SU symbol there, and just look at this,” Barnes said. “We’re talking D-I stuff here.”

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