After unusually cold weather last fall slowed construction, the University of Montana is scrambling to complete the new $1.3 million softball field and indoor batting cages for the also brand-new Montana Grizzlies women's softball squad.
Officials are crossing their fingers and hoping everything is ready for a home doubleheader against Carroll College next Wednesday at 2 p.m.
On Thursday afternoon, crews were busy laying the final pieces of FieldTurf, and the scoreboard was awaiting shipment from North Dakota.
Dozens of workers were also hustling around the site of the new field, located at the north end of the university’s South Campus, moving pipe and putting the finishing touches on the concrete dugouts.
"We were hoping to get a lot more done last October and November, but the weather was terrible,” said Kevin Krebsbach, associate director of UM’s Facilities Services administration. “We’re lucky we got this temperate spring.”
“The weather killed us in the fall, and saved us in the spring,” echoed Chuck Maes, UM’s associate athletic director for internal operations. “Without that late November freeze, this would have been in already. That was the plan. And then ‘bang’ we got hit with that freeze and we couldn’t do it. We got burned in the beginning and saved in the end. It’s fine. It worked.”
Last year, the state Board of Regents gave UM approval to spend $1.5 million on the new field after the university created a women’s softball program, in part because of gender-equity requirements of Title IX.
The project funding came through UM athletic reserves, in-kind contributions and private donations to the UM Foundation.
Krebsbach said the site used to be a UM plant nursery, so tons of topsoil had to be removed.
After the field site was flattened, a subcontractor from Canada that specializes in laying FieldTurf got to work this week installing the artificial grass.
“We wanted to make sure it was all-weather,” Krebsbach explained. “If it snows, we’ll be able to just brush it off and play. Unless it’s really a downpour, they’ll be able to play in the rain, too. It drains really well. The (subcontractors) said we had one of the best bases they’ve worked on. They did a bang-up job.”
The FieldTurf is covered with a mixture of sand and finely ground rubber to give it the perfect amount of shock absorption and bounciness.
The football field at Washington-Grizzly Stadium is a little bit different, and is made by a company called Sprinturf LLC.
Krebsbach explained that even the new infield will be covered in brown FieldTurf.
There will be temporary bleachers that will accommodate 1,000 fans, Maes explained. He’s especially proud of the unique design of the complex.
“Our bullpens are real unique,” he said. “Probably nobody else has it set that way. They are set up behind the dugouts. Usually they are over (to the side). We designed the bullpens to be sunk in with the dugouts and behind the dugouts. So the coach can just poke his head back there and say, ‘Is she ready yet?’ and bring them in.
"We were looking for a signature, something different that nobody else has to make us unique. And Doug Jackson of Jackson Construction came up with this idea and thought it’d be really neat and we all bought into it.”
The low-lying bullpens will also give young fans a unique, up-close chance to watch pitchers warm up.
The indoor batting cages also will have turf on the ground, allowing the team, under the direction of head coach Jamie Pinkerton, to practice year-round.
Each dugout will have its own bathroom, so the players don’t have to walk through the fans during the game, and there will be areas in the outfield where people can set up lawn chairs.
Pinkerton took the team out for a tour of the new facilities last week, and word has it they're extremely excited to have a home field advantage finally.
The team has been playing on the road in places like California and New Mexico since last fall, but they won all four of the "home" games they played on a makeshift field in Frenchtown last October.
Maes said nearly 1,000 fans turned out for those games.
Maes added that he hopes the Montana women can take the field on their new digs for the scheduled home doubleheader against Carroll College at 2 p.m. Wednesday, but if the weather is just too nasty or the field isn’t quite ready, they will definitely be ready for the conference doubleheader against Idaho State at 1 p.m. March 21.