Big changes for SOU field

Southern Oregon University's entire track and field is now bare earth as rebuilding begins on a new $20 million complex, paid for with student fees and scheduled to be done in late September.

The new football field, to be made of artificial turf, won't be done in time for SOU's home opener Sept. 6 against Carroll College of Montana, so it will be played in the afternoon at Ashland High School's field, says Drew Gilliland, SOU director of facilities and management and planning.

"The old track was deteriorating to the point where we couldn't use it for competition," he says. "We got as much out of it as we could."

Though grass is natural and organic, it lost out against artificial turf because grass requires mowing, fertilizer, water and is much more labor-intensive, says Gilliland.

"You can vacuum artificial turf," he says. "It has a 10-year lifespan. It does cost $300,000 to $400,000 to replace, but that's about the same as a full-time employee over 10 years, without including the cost of water and fertilizer. On grass, you can't play if it's wet, and without water, it can get hard. In addition, Ashland has big water concerns. With turf, you can play 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It's always available."

The new track will have 10 lanes instead of nine and will have the same red finish. It will have places for shot put, pole vault and, new this year, steeplechase, a competition that requires jumping over hurdles and pools of water.

The track is synthetic asphalt with a rubber top layer, standard for NAIA and NCAA competition. It will be used for intramural play and is also open to the community, as long as users obey rules such as no litter, bikes or dogs, he says.

Large earth-moving equipment has stripped the field's recognizable features and lines have been laid for utilities.

The work precedes another big project, construction of a new Student Recreation Center attached to the McNeal Pavilion. It will include seismic and mechanical upgrades and cost $21 million. It will begin next spring.

The track and field was designed by Cameron McCarthy Landscape Architecture of Eugene. Builder is Batzer Construction of Medford. The bleachers will remain as they are.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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