Thunder Stadium will have a new look come August as the Tempe Union High School District Governing Board approved a new turf field at Desert Vista High School.
The board May 10 unanimously approved a new field for Desert Vista as well as Tempe High.
“Having a space where we won’t have to worry about maintenance and is always ready to go will be a game changer for us,” Desert Vista Athletic Director Tommy Eubanks said.
“Between our athletic teams, band and PE classes, practice space is at a minimum at DV,” he added. “Now we will have an extra space that can be used by everyone.”
The district estimates both projects to cost over $2.9 million to complete.
District officials and representatives from Lloyd Civil and Sports Engineering examined proposals from a number of different companies for the project, ultimately hiring Sun Valley Builders, Inc. to install the new field.
Much of the funding for the two projects is expected to come from the unrestricted capital funds the district received from the sale of property in Ahwatukee. District Superintendent Kevin Mendivil sought ways all six of Tempe Union’s comprehensive high schools could benefit from the funds, and upgrading facilities was one of them.
“As a high school only district we have to put 110 percent of our effort and ideas and creativity and those resources that are available to us to keep these multimillion dollar facilities up to par and beyond that,” Mendivil said during the board meeting, “so that our students, out families, our teachers can enjoy and have an absolute fantastic memorable experience during their time with us.”
The artificial turf is expected to cut down on maintenance costs for the district. It’ll also be used by all physical education classes at both schools even during sports seasons.
Eubanks said Desert Vista PE classes were forced to walk nearly a mile to the practice fields behind the school to ensure the main game field remained in good condition for athletic events. The turf will now allow members of the community access to it more often. Eubanks said he’s received inquiries in year’s past for the field to be rented for 12 hours every Saturday in the fall.
Desert Vista football coach Dan Hinds said the new turf field will open up a variety of possibilities for all levels of the program. The varsity team began practicing in the early morning last year to avoid the heat. But as temperatures cooled and daylight hours shortened, they were forced to revert back to the afternoons without lights on their practice field.
Only the main field has lights, but Hinds was fearful of using it because of its already poor condition. But with turf, they can practice on it at all times.
“Now when it gets too dark in the morning, we will just flip the lights on,” Hinds said. “It’s a gamechanger for us. We can be on the main field as much as we need to. Other sports, the community, youth football can use it. It’ll be great for everybody.”
Desert Vista’s football program has been a frequent visitor in the postseason the last two year, resulting in long seasons. Often times, the Thunder finished when the soccer program had already gotten started.
Trent Elliott, the school’s boys’ soccer coach, said it often took weeks for the field to return to decent condition. Sometimes, however, it never got to that point.
“The struggle the last two or three years is having very little green and having small rocks on the field,” Elliott said. “We’ve even had officials comment on it. We’re really excited. It gives us an opportunity to play on a field where we don’t have to worry about those things.”
Desert Vista and Tempe will become the latest high schools in Arizona to transition to a turf field. In 2018, the Scottsdale Unified School District voted to install turf at all but one of its high schools, the only exception being Desert Mountain. If schools already had turf in place, it was updated.
Williams Field installed turf before the school opened in 2008. The same goes for nearby Campo Verde in 2009. Higley had natural grass up until this past season, when a new technology of turf that uses coconut husk and cork to help remain cool in extreme temperatures was installed last summer.
“It’s been great for us,” Zubey said. “When it’s 110 degrees out its still 110 degrees. But the difference is not having those little black pellets that makes it hot on your feet. It’s nice because it allows everyone to get on it, from football to soccer, to lacrosse and our band.”
The decision to install turf at Desert Vista and Tempe was met with some concern from board members. Many claimed they were hesitant based on a lack of information before the board meeting. However, based on Assistant Superintendent for District Operations, Safety & Student Support Sean McDonald’s presentation on the benefits of new turf technology, the board quickly became in favor of the project.
Both schools will now work with contractors to begin designing their respective fields. Installation will be complete before the start of the new school year.
“I was not sold on artificial turf for quite a while until you see the advancements that have occurred over the last five and 10 years and you will continue to see,” Mendivil said. “But more importantly, the access opportunities our students will be able to have along without teachers and community members.
“It opens the door to so many more possibilities.”