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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

July 23, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Sports

Fielding concerns

The brand new Higgins Stadium is a variable oasis for both the men’s and women’s lacrosse and club rugby teams, but problems are bigger than its convenience. Instead of showing their prowess with lacrosse sticks, the athletes wield snow shovels.

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Members of the men’s lacrosse team run through drills at Higgins Stadium on Friday. Because of bulging in certain areas of the artifical turf, the college is evaluating how to address the problem so teams can host games this season. ANDREW CASPER/THE ITHACAN

Higgins Stadium is experiencing drainage problems below the turf, which creates bulges in the field, and the shoveling merely scratches the surface. Because of the current condition of the field, the college deemed it would be a liability to allow opponents to compete on it. But allowing opposing teams to set foot on the turf isn’t the only concern.

Plows or other heavy machinery are not permitted on the field at this point, for fear of tearing or gouging the turf, or even crushing the drains, Ken Kutler, director of intercollegiate athletics and recreational sports, said.

“One of the theories is that the space between the top of the drains to the surface is not as compacted as the rest of the space on the field,” Kutler said. “With quick freezes and quick thaws the water expands, and they say that may be responsible for the heaving of the field.”

Pike Construction Company, which is in control of the Athletics and Events Center operation, along with Sports Construction Group, which oversaw the construction of the turf field, are the two companies involved with the construction of the field.

Andrew Rowland, director of turf operations at Sports Construction Group, said the company is helping brainstorm solutions to the problem.

“We’re consulting with them,” Rowland said. “But it’s not our scope of work that resulted in the problem. We just supplied and installed the turf surface. The issue is in the drainage.”

Rick Couture, associate vice president of the office of facilities, said he has been working with both construction companies as well as T.G. Miller, P.C., a local engineering and land surveying company, to find a solution. Couture said they cut out a small section of the turf to remove a coring sample for testing and also looked at the drainage system.

After meeting with Pike, SCG and T.G. Miller, P.C. yesterday to evaluate the results of the sample, Couture said, it was confirmed there is crushed drainpipe under the turf, but additional sections need to looked at to understand the scope of the problem.

Couture said, in addition to further evaluation of the field Monday, an 8-inch drainpipe running the length of the field has to be reconnected, which means the west side of the field will have to be pulled up.

“We did verify that in that one section there, there was some crushed drain pipe,” he said. “So that’s why we thought it would be a good idea to check one or two other spots to see if that’s just an anomaly.”

Couture said the field’s drainage system is similar to a french drain.

“There’s a stone base underneath the turf and so that stone base was compacted, and then the turf was laid on top of that,” he said. “The theory of course is that water is supposed to seep down through the turf and then percolate through the drainage pipes and into the ground itself, and then shed water.”

If the weather holds out, further evaluation will continue Monday, since the men’s lacrosse team will be heading to California and women’s squad going south to Florida for training during spring break.

Kutler said ripping the entire turf field and putting a new one in would be a last resort.

“A lot is up in the air,” he said. “There are only theories going around.”

Another option is to wait for warmer weather in a few weeks, so the ground will settle and potentially eliminate the problem. Then eventually, teams will be allowed to compete on it this season.

Because of the uncertainty of the situation, teams’ practice during preseason is in constant limbo.

Some days the athletes have to shovel the turf, but other times they have to use the gym. Kutler said he both teams have been cooperative during this process.

“I’m very proud of both [Men’s Lacrosse Head Coach] Jeff Long and [Women’s Lacrosse Head Coach] Karen Hollands,” Kutler said. “They are handling it well psychologically because it is out of their control, but also relaying their thoughts and feelings to their players.”

Both the lacrosse coaches and the players declined to comment on the situation.