Snow blanketed the baseball diamonds across the city well into March this year, including at Den Hartog Field, one of the main competition sites for the Lincoln Public Schools' varsity teams.
The water-logged spring also caused games to be postponed or canceled, while the boys of summer ran through what drills they could and took batting practice inside gyms across the district.
LPS hopes a new synthetic turf overlay installed at Den Hartog, next to Seacrest Field east of 70th and A streets, will provide a facility where ballgames could take place earlier in the spring and with greater frequency.
Tuesday, the Lincoln Board of Education approved a $947,500 plan to upgrade Den Hartog in time for the 2020 season. Lincoln company Nemaha Landscape Construction was awarded the project.
“This past spring was a great example of why we need it,” said Scott Wieskamp, LPS’ director of operations.
Not only would snow melt quicker on a synthetic field, Wieskamp said, LPS could remove the snow to allow for practices and games. A new drainage system will also result in fewer rainouts, as the field could be ready to use quicker after spring and summer storms.
“It gives us more opportunity to play,” Wieskamp said.
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The project will be funded through a combination of LPS’ depreciation fund, essentially the district’s savings accounts for major purchases, the athletic fund generated through ticket sales to LPS events, and the special grants fund, said Liz Standish, associate superintendent for business affairs.
Local baseball groups, including Babe Ruth Baseball, have raised money for the project, and LPS is exploring other opportunities for private funding to offset some cost to the district’s depreciation fund, Standish added.
Once completed, LPS would join a growing list of school districts and universities in northern climates to install synthetic turf fields at their baseball facilities.
Omaha Westside has played on an all-weather turf field for at least a decade, while fields at Creighton Prep, Millard West, Bellevue East, Bellevue West, Kearney, Hastings and Plattsmouth also feature the product.
In the Big Ten Conference, 11 of the 14 schools have baseball diamonds with synthetic turf. Nebraska is among the exceptions.
Den Hartog Field is the only competition field LPS owns, but teams from the district also host varsity games at Sherman Field, as well as other city-owned fields.
Wieskamp said LPS is considering building as many as two more baseball fields on district property in the not-too-distant future. Both would be outfitted with turf fields comparable to Den Hartog.