For several years, Dalzell Field just might have been the biggest waste of prime real estate in the city of Dubuque.
The concrete supporting the home bleachers was crumbling. The press box was a fire hazard. And who could forget that lovely orange snow fence inside the track to keep people off the grass during the football offseason?
The Dubuque Community School District basically had to re-grow the grass on the football field every year, making that orange snow fence necessary. Then, all it took was one good rain and a couple of muddy football games on Thursday and Friday nights to start the cycle all over again.
But, in 2013, Dalzell underwent a $10 million renovation to turn the eyesore into a jewel not only for the city of Dubuque but for high school athletics in the state of Iowa.
The home-side bleachers and press box became safer and more accessible while providing a scenic view of the action on the field and the surrounding neighborhood. A new artificial playing surface took poor weather out of the equation and created countless more opportunities for students to use a space once considered off-limits because of that orange snow fence.
Instead of limiting usage to protect the growth of natural grass, Dalzell now can host soccer in the spring, marching band competitions, physical education classes and team practices, pretty much year-round, without worrying about a fragile surface. And the new eight-lane track, an expansion over the six lanes of the past, allows Dubuque to host conference and state-qualifying meets.
That $10 million investment in Dalzell Field sure looks like a wise investment just six years later. And it should serve as a catalyst for a much smaller scale renovation across the parking lot at Senior High School.
The school board on Monday discussed Senior’s baseball diamond as part of facility renovations in the district. And rightly so, as the diamond rekindles not-so-fond memories of what Dalzell Field used to be.
The diamond takes a beating every fall, when it hosts underclassmen football practices. That means extensive maintenance in the late fall or early spring to return the field to more favorable playing conditions.
But, as most infielders will tell you, Senior’s diamond features some of the toughest hops they see all season. The wear and tear from football practices never completely goes away.
The land-locked school has no other space to accommodate those football practices, so they will always take place on the baseball diamond. That makes artificial turf a wise choice — not only from a safety standpoint but also because of the lower maintenance costs.
Artificial turf also eliminates a majority of postponements because of wet grounds. Field Turf, such as Dalzell’s, can handle up to six inches of rain in an hour, and it doesn’t have to be mowed or rolled.
That would eliminate scenarios such as Tuesday, when Hempstead postponed a 5:30 p.m. home game against Wahlert because of wet grounds … despite the sun shining most of the morning and all afternoon.
It wouldn’t be difficult to keep the baseball diamond as a multi-use area, either. Several moveable fencing options could accommodate football, and temporary football line markings could be washed away by baseball season. And, if it includes artificial turf, the diamond could lighten some of the load on Dalzell.
Speaking of safety, the diamond’s current layout places the pitcher’s mound, second base and centerfield directly in line with the setting sun, so fielders often struggle to see baseballs that come off the bat quickly.
And, because the facility does not include artificial lights, the Rams can’t afford to take early evening breaks to allow the sun to set. A renovation would provide the perfect opportunity to reconfigure the diamond’s layout to minimize the impact of the setting sun.
That lack of lights also forces Senior to start conference doubleheaders at 3:30 p.m. and single games at 5:30 p.m. — not exactly ideal for working parents to watch their kids’ games. By the way, of the 48 schools in Iowa Class 4A, only Senior and Hempstead do not have artificial lights.
Obviously, a renovation of the Senior diamond will include a steep price tag. But the district probably wouldn’t have to look very far to find help, if it chooses to do so.
Across the street, Dan Spain has built Clarke University into a baseball powerhouse at the NAIA level. The Pride currently play games and practice in Peosta, Iowa, and would make an intriguing partner. (Clarke’s football program will play its home games at Dalzell beginning this fall, and the two schools frequently share facilities.)
With a few tweaks to the schedule, Hempstead could also play home games on the renovated diamond. The two schools already share Dalzell and the district swimming pool, and they had a similar arrangement for baseball decades ago when Hempstead served as the primary diamond.
As the district learned from Dalzell, a renovation done right can be a wise investment.