Soccer field at St. Croix UVI campus deemed unplayable
Published: September 9, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - You could call it a field of dreams deferred.
During the last three years, the University of the Virgin Islands has spent $776,900 of public money on two soccer fields on the St. Croix campus, one for performance and one for practice, according to Nereida Washington, director of campus operations for the St. Croix campus.
However, as of the season's start Saturday, and after running a year behind projected completion deadlines, the performance field has been deemed unplayable by the Liga Atlética Interuniversitaria, the intercollegiate entity responsible for certifying athletic facilities at UVI, and the practice field is not completed.
The reasons for both the delays in completion and the deficiencies are about as manifold as the anthills, divets and weeds that have plagued the site since its groundbreaking in Jan. 2011, according to UVI officials.
Carlos Vazquez, sports and tournament director for the Liga Atlética Interuniversitaria, said he conducted inspections on the performance field July 24 and during the first week of August and found the field to have too much of a slope, anthills and holes both times. He submitted his report to the league's technical committee who found that, because the risk of injury involved in playing on such a field was too great, they could not sign off on having league matches there.
"Basically, there were a lot of holes in that area," Vazquez said of the field. "The field has a slope to it. It is not firm. It is not even. There were a lot of places where it was not straight. Some areas had anthills."
Vazquez said the slope, in particular, was visibly notable and a cause for concern.
"You can see just by standing in a corner, it is not flat. Some places are higher and lower," Vazquez said. "If it's not flat enough obviously you are going to have a lot of injuries."
Vazquez said he also cited the lack of restrooms and changing facilities near the field as a deficiency, but that lack alone would not have barred the certification of the field. The main issue is how the shoddy turf compromises players' safety, he said.
However, even if the university corrects those safety-related deficiencies, because the league has already had to schedule a full season of games to last through play-offs in November, conducting another inspection and rescheduling for the league's 16 teams will not be feasible at this point, Vazquez said.
What this means for the university's soccer team is yet another season without a home field advantage and having to spend double the anticipated amount on play this season, according to UVI's Interim Athletic Director Curtis Gilpin.
"We are really disappointed that it has not been certified to play home games. Especially to play on campus, you get to see the kids receive the support of people around them, and other students can come out and support them," Gilpin said.
Gilpin said the department had budgeted for play on the performance field for at least half of the 15 scheduled matches, but, without league approval, the university will have to spend about $50,000 on traveling to and from Puerto Rico nine or 10 times, as it costs about $5,000 per trip, Gilpin said.
Gilpin said that soccer players are still having to be taken off campus to Sion Farm to practice as the practice field is not completed either.
"The practice field has not had anything done with it," Gilpin said.
The project's total budget was $776,900. Of that, $435,000 came from overflow of other American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funded projects that had been completed underbudget. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was a federal spending bill passed by Congress to stimulate the economy during the country's recession. Another $300,000 in project-specific stimulus funding, and $41,352 of UVI's plant funds, made up the difference, Washington said.
The league's disapproval of the performance field appears to have taken UVI officials by surprise.
As late as June 16, President David Hall assured the university's board of trustees that the performance field "has grass" and that its divets would be corrected by the fall.
In interviews in late June, Washington said the performance field would be ready for both matches and for the team to practice on by Aug. 1 while the turf of the practice field, which has had repeated problems with the seeding, continues to be developed.
"We are near completion. We are leveling the field and doing some weeding work and finalizing maintenance plans so that we can take over and run to the races," Washington said.
When asked to describe the condition of the field, Gerard Buggy, senior project manager for UVI, said the slope was about 1.5 percent, much "flatter than a football field" when measured from the center to each edge.
"It looks like the most beautiful soccer field on St. Croix. It is beautiful. It is green. You could play soccer on that field today," Buggy said.
Buggy said he was aware, in June, that the project had run past deadline because of multiple failed seedings on the practice field and because the process of laying sod, which was ultimately what Eleven Construction decided to do on the performance field, was somewhat novel to the contractor.
Regarding delays in the completion of both the performance and the practice fields, Buggy said: "The one thing that I would take from this project is that we were overaggressive in our thinking that our grass would grow quicker because we were in the Caribbean, and that was really the primary reason why this has taken so long, and the university's thought throughout this process has been that this is going to be of long-term benefit to the university and a great asset to the community. We thought we really need to do this correctly the first time, so that when it is ready it will be a quality field, and everybody will be proud, and everybody will be able to use it."
Buggy said Thursday the performance field had been accepted by the university and that corrections mostly would be the task of the university's maintenance staff, not the contractor, Eleven Construction. Buggy said he disagreed with the league's findings.
"I believe that we have done everything in our power to make the field playable at this point. I just don't understand the reasoning behind that report," Buggy said.
Buggy said he did not know how much the corrections could cost nor how much the ongoing maintenance between this season and next would cost the university. He deferred such questions to Washington, who declined to do a follow-up interview for this story, saying she did not have authorization from the university's public relations office.
University President David Hall said Friday that, despite the lack of league certification, the performance field is "playable" and that the school intends to have its players, as well as those from other community teams, play non-league matches and practice on it later this fall.
Hall also said the university would continue to work with the contractor to address the deficiencies.
"We certainly regret that our players will be inconvenienced in regard to their league matches, but this was something that was a surprise to us that it did not qualify," Hall said. "We had made many changes to it, and we will do our best to address those issues they had identified and which are within our control."
- Contact Amanda Norris at 714-9104 or email email@example.com.- 2009: Planning for three fields is complete.
- 2011: The university secures $300,000 of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding. Through the competitive bid process, however, officials find that this amount was far below contractor bids, some of which came back at $1.4 million for the three originally proposed fields.
- March 2011: UVI launches its soccer program with the intention of completing the fields by the fall 2012 season.
- Sept. 2011: Pottery shards and structural remains are found on site
- Nov. 15, 2011: Original date for beginning construction. Construction is delayed, however, because, as part of the permitting process, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources orders the university to conduct an archaeological survey after the pottery shards and structural remains were found.
- May 2011: A contractor for the archaeological survey is hired. After receiving the findings, university administrators decided to eliminate one of the three proposed fields to preserve the area containing the ruins. This decision, and the cost issues, prompt a redesign of the project. Officials scale back the design from three fields to two, defer lighting to a future phase, modify irrigation systems from sprinklers to more cost-effective above ground hoses and drip systems and reduce the land area.
- Late January 2012: Construction begins, with a scheduled completion date of fall 2012.
- By June 2012: The university secures extensions from federal grantors because the project's deadline had been pushed back after heavy rains disrupted the process of clearing land, creating drainage and seeding.
- Summer 2012: Seeding of the practice field fails because the native topsoil is contaminated with weeds, which take hold before the Bermuda grass field can properly sprout.
- March 2012: Because of the seeding trouble on the practice field, Eleven Construction approaches the university with change orders to use sod shipped from Puerto Rico on the performance field.
- June 2012: The university approves the sod change orders and Eleven Construction finishes laying sod on the performance field.
- From June to Sept. 2012: Even after extensive watering, the sod goes "into a dormant stage" because of a lack of rainfall.
- From Sept. 2012 until present: The performance field continues to develop divets, or holes, which contractors are instructed to fill with a mixture of sand and soil, a process called top dressing.
- April 2013: Eleven Construction begins using a second, alternative process called hydroseeding on the practice field after stripping the native topsoil layer.
- Summer to present: Crews mow the grass around the fields and put on the finishing touches, such as edging, on the performance field while construction continues. Top dressing has also been found to be necessary on the practice field, which may require another six months.
- July 24: A first inspection by Liga Atletic Interuniversitaria finds the field unstriped, creating problems measuring dimensions of the field. Inspectors note the field had deficiencies that could block play, including too steep a slope, divets and anthills.
- First week of August: A second inspection notes that the field has been striped but the safety-related deficiencies remain.
Sources: Nereida Washington, director of campus operations of the St. Croix campus; Gerard Buggy, senior project manager at UVI; a Liga Atletica Interuniversitaria official; construction documents supplied by UVI; and The Daily News archive.