by Will Lomen
One day a little girl fell on the rough McGilvra Elementary School dirt field, scraping her hands and knees. Years later in October of 1999 that little girl was the president of the McGilvra PTSA and the field was in even worse condition. Zimmie Caner had had enough so she approached another McGilvra parent, Deb Kahn, about chairing a committee to research the possibility of resurfacing the school's field. On that day the "McGilvra Field of Dreams" was born.
Reaching out into the neighborhood the committee found broad support within the entire Madison Park/Washington Park community. Raising funds through City and County matching grants, donations from local citizens and businesses and money jars at local stores the committee raised over $380,000 for the project.
During the field evaluation process the committee realized that the Astro Turf generation was over and that the "infill" generation was on the horizon. The "good news" about Astro Turf is that it is durable and doesn't require a lot of maintenance, but the "bad news" is that the abrasive surface causes rug burns; and its hard sub-surface results in bone-jarring thumps to the head and unyielding hits to shoulders and collar bones. The term "infill" refers to a green-bladed polypropylene material that is supported by millions of tiny rubber granules that are mixed into the synthetic carpet to provide a cushioned, more grass-like surface for sliding and falling athletes. Put simply it is padded carpet installed over an efficient stone aggregate drain field.
Finally, on the hot and dusty day of June 25th 2001, Jo Shapiro, McGilvra Elementary School's principal, attempted unsuccessfully to dig a ceremonial shovel into the rock hard surface of the school's 35 X 70 yard athletic field. If ever there was a validation of the committee's vision, this was it. Throughout the summer, heavy equipment came and went, holes were dug, the drain gravel was laid and one day in late August ten large rolls of carpet were delivered and rolled out looking like an installation for a giant's living room. Then a few weeks later the first soccer game was played between two nine-year-old boys’ teams from the McGivra Soccer Club, the Terminators and the Nomads.
Now nine years later, using funds from the Building Excellence III project approved by voters in 2007, the Seattle School District is in the process of replacing the field built in 2001. According to David Standaart of the Seattle School District, the project, which cost nearly $250,000, should be finished by early August; and he confirms the field will be ready for the McGilvra Soccer Club's practices next month. According to Standaart the existing sub-surface needed a little laser leveling but was otherwise in good shape. He also stated that the District will conduct G-max testing once the field is completed. G-max measures the impact of a body when it makes contact with a surface. Once they establish a "baseline" they will compare that to tests done in the future to evaluate how hard the surface has become. The School District will also be responsible for the yearly grooming and general maintenance of the field.
Bruce Clarkson, the McGilvra Soccer Club president, is excited about the new field and says that it will be complete with lines defining the soccer field and extra markings denoting kickball bases for the school's PE classes. He also pointed out that the original field had reached the end of its life expectancy, with fraying seams and a slippery surface. "It was becoming a safety issue," he said.
One difference between the original surface and the new Sportexe field manufactured by Shaw Flooring is the addition of sand into the rubber infill. According to Hailey Towne, a resident of Madison Park and a project coordinator for contractor D.A. Hogan, this mixture provides a firm surface that enhances speed and accurate ball movement. Supporting the surface are panels called "Brock Pads" which provide safe cushioning and prolong the life of the field. D.A Hogan, with offices locally, has built over a thousand athletic fields all over the country including synthetic surfaces at the Seahawks’ Virginia Mason practice complex and the natural grass surface at the Mariners’ Safeco Field.
It's heartening to have the Seattle School District recognize that the McGilvra Field is not only a public-school asset but also a field that is used by the local community, as well as kids and people from all over the city. The Madison Park/Washington Park neighborhood is pleased that the legacy of the "Field of Dreams" is continuing as a "Field of Reality".
[Will Lomen is a lifelong Madison Park resident who also has his own blog, Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here. Photos above show the 2010 installation and are by Will Lomen.]