BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Five years into it’s existence, the Baxter Sports Complex is in the midst of a facelift so to speak.
Specialists from North Liberty are in town removing the current infield mix from all three baseball fields in the complex and replacing them with a different surface material that will allow for quicker resumption of games after it rains.
The board made the decision in September last year to replace the surfaces despite the material having been in place for less than five years.
Baxter Sports Complex Director Jeff Woodside said the fields just weren’t handling water well and that many events were being canceled all together because of the playing conditions, rather than being delayed.
“The material itself didn’t drain, and the way it was graded was more for construction than for a playing field,” Woodside said. “We’ve probably had eight rain outs this year, but only a couple of those would have been rainouts regardless. The others we probably would have been able to resume play with this new surface.”
He said MBA Turf of North Liberty has already pulled over 120 tons of material from field 3 and has put down the new lime material and reset that field. He said he wanted to do one field at a time so two would still be available to use in the meantime.
The company is pulling the heavier material in favor of Shakopee limestone, a highly absorbent material that can absorb up to 1″ of rain in less than an hour. The material comes from Shakopee, Minn.
“This has taken longer than usual. Typically we can renovate one field in a couple of days by just putting on new materials. But we got rid of their lip and a got rid of a few things, and now we’re working on irrigation,” said MBA’s Bev Seelman.
The company is heavily experienced and is one of the University of Iowa’s go to companies when it comes to rehabbing and resurfacing fields.
We contracted with them last September knowing it wouldn’t happen until this spring. It should have been completed in April, but the rain pushed their schedule back as they were finishing up a couple other projects.
When I came in October of 2017, it was one of those things we knew needed to be done, but was an issue of how we were going to pay for it and finding the right person to the do the work.
He said the board did a couple of site visits, and also went to Linn-Mar High School and talked to groundskeepers about the different materials the board was considering.
“He said this, hands-down, is the best material for what we were wanting to do with it, so that’s what we went with,” Woodside said.
Planned work would have field 2, or the southwest field done next followed by field 1 in the southeast corner of the complex. Woodside said the total bill for the improvements will be in the six-figure range, but he said grants from the Southeast Iowa Regional Riverboat Commission, helped offset a lot of the costs.
The complex also just finished up a $35,000 upgrade to the sand volleyball courts with new sand and landscaping. New rock landscaping and sod were put down just south of the patio and 220 tons of new sand was brought in.
Woodside said the improvements have helped fill up the adult volleyball schedule.
“We’ve got volleyball three nights a week and it’s pretty full out here,” he said.
He said these projects will probably be the final projects done outside of in-house maintenance this year.
The complex has an all night volleyball tournament scheduled for July 26 and an all-night softball tournament coming up in August. Woodside said summer leagues are in full swing and fall leagues will be forming at the beginning of September.