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Turf project restores LCC's Story Field to all-star condition

Photo: Bill Wagner, The Daily News


Longview Daily News

Jan 29, 2017

Eddie Smith is a happy coach now that he doesn’t drive the 150-mile round trip to Lacey daily for practices with his Lower Columbia College baseball team.

Five months after initial financial approval from the college, the Red Devils are training on the newly installed artificial infield turf at David Story Field.

The pristine surface seemed a long time coming.

“There have been a few setbacks during the turf installation,” said Smith. “It’s weather-dependent. We had a wet fall along with a tough winter, so the job took a little longer than anticipated.”

Completion of the work restores one of the college’s gems, a venue that has attracted national baseball tournaments and which hosts Cowlitz Black Bears summer league baseball every year. The new field turf should help to cut down on player injuries, and it also ends a feud between the school administration and Smith.

During construction, the Red Devils traveled to the Recreational Athletic Complex in Lacey, where they worked out on a turf field.

“That was the closest place we could find which had a turf infield,” Smith said of the trips to Lacey. “It’ll be nice to stay home and practice on our own field.”

LCC joins Edmonds College as the only schools in the Northwest Athletic Conference with on-campus artificial-surface baseball fields. LCC’s new in field is all turf, including the basepaths, home plate and pitching areas, which traditionally are exposed dirt. Now, the infield turf goes to the lip of the outfield grass.

The LCC athletic department funded the $502,000 project by borrowing from a college reserve account. The college has already received a total of $218,000 in donations from the Cowlitz County lodging tax fund ($100,000), Longview and Kelso lodging tax funds ($15,000 each), The Associated Students of Lower Columbia College ($75,000), the LCC Baseball Club ($5,000), and donations from LCC Booster Club members and former LCC student-athletes totaling $8,000. This leaves about $284,000 to raise.

Lodging tax funds can be used on this project since the field brings in tourists for the NWAC Baseball Championships in May, the Cowlitz Black Bears wood-bat baseball season during the summer, and the Babe Ruth World Series, which is held every four years.

The Legislature has reduced LCC’s funding by 23 percent since 2008-09, and it also has barred community colleges from using operating funds to support athletics explaining why the athletic program has to pay back the loan.

“Occasionally we’ll do a project and fundraise for it afterwards to pay back the college,” said Nolan Wheeler, LCC Vice President of Administrative Services. “We did a similar thing with the recent Head Start Center renovation. There’s an expectation that the rest of the money will be fundraised, but there’s no timeline as to when it has to be paid off, so we’re exploring ways to get it paid for.”

The old, worn-out turf was installed in 2002 and had a life expectancy of about 10 years. The infield dirt and basepaths, once riddled with pebbles that caused dangerous “bad hop” bounces that smacked players’ faces and bodies, are now covered with turf.

“This turf will last 10-20 years,” LCC athletic director Kirc Roland said. “The high-wear areas of the pitcher’s mound and batter’s boxes are placed with heavy Velcro and can be easily and inexpensively replaced.”


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