Crews will complete turning the surface at Boise State’s football stadium from blue to green by Sunday night in preparation for Saturday’s international club soccer match between Spain’s Athletic Bilbao and Mexico’s Club Tijuana.
The field is green for the first time since 1986 — and has natural grass for the first time in modern history.
The Spanish league La Liga, home to Bilbao, has a contract with FIFA (soccer’s international governing body) requiring any field its teams play on to be natural grass in order to protect players from injury and ensure the best playing surface. That led to the transformation at Boise State, as did the size of the blue (football fields are 531/3 yards wide). FIFA rules require fields to be at least 70 yards wide, a minimum the installed grass meets on the nose.
Brad Veibell, the vice president of sales and marketing for Oregon-based JB Instant Lawn, said Boise State fans have nothing to worry about. He said the company has installed approximately 20 of these fields, including for men’s World Cup qualifiers, women’s World Cup games and Manchester United’s friendly against Mexico’s Club America on Friday in Seattle. He said the protective layer of decking that covers the blue and supports the grass is one of the best he’s ever seen.
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The blue turf will return by July 22, with the grass donated to replace fields at Ann Morrison Park.
Before anyone could think of laying grass on top of Boise State’s iconic blue turf, they first had to ensure they could protect it. That first step at Albertsons Stadium came Thursday as volunteers laid out 7,056 pieces of 31/2-foot-by-31/2-foot hard, white plastic panels atop the blue turf. Crews said the deck is strong enough to support a semi truck. Manufactured in Indiana, Jimmy Keiger of Sunbelt Rentals said the pieces came new to Boise because the company is also providing 30,000 to 40,000 pieces for the Pan American Games in Toronto and didn’t have enough to cover both locations. Keiger said the flooring has protected fields for Olympic opening and closing ceremonies, stadium concerts and graduations. He just returned from the European Games in Azerbaijan. “Lately, this is a small job for us,” Keiger said.
The second step includes the first of two plastic layers laid on top of the white decking panels. The first layer features a white, string-reinforced polypropylene (plastic). That layer goes over every inch of the panels. Some of the decking does not cover the turf, and it and the grass will run up to the stands on the east side of Albertsons Stadium. That waterproof layer keeps moisture off the blue turf, but water leakage is not the main concern. The sediment it carries with it is. “Water gets on this all the time,” said Brad Veibell, the vice president of sales and marketing with Oregon-based JB Instant Lawn. “You just don’t want any sediment getting in there because of the drainage system in the field.” Sediment could clog the drainage system, so the plastic layer directs water to the drainage vents at each end of the field.
REINFORCING BLACK PLASTIC
A single layer of plastic is not enough to protect the blue turf, so crews installed a black, mesh-like layer of plastic on top of the seams of the base plastic layer. Crews duct taped sheets of the base plastic protection to the hard decking. But with forklifts rolling over the surface, carrying 3,000-pound rolls of grass sod, duct tape can be compromised. So that woven layer, which lets water pass through but is stronger than the string-reinforced plastic, adds another layer of protection. “The turf will not tear that. You’d have to have something sharp,” said Veibell, of JB Instant Lawn. “As we go along, if there is a tear in it, we jump out and duct tape spots if we think it’s been compromised at all. They’ve been very conscientious and making sure everything is covered and done right and there are no issues.”
GRASS FIT FOR BSU
George Totorica of Cloverdale Nursery said a typical installation of sod includes half an inch of dirt. For this turf, he’s cutting 11/2 inches of dirt. The extra dirt creates weight — approximately 1.26 million pounds in total — which helps the grass stay in place as players move and cut. Another first includes wrapping the rolls of sod — 20 semi truck loads — in paper to keep loose dirt out of the surface. As soon as crews installed the first rolls, they started watering them by hand with fire hoses. Totorica said if temperatures reach 100 degrees, crews might have to water the field 24 hours a day. Totorica, a 25-year season ticket holder at Boise State and of Basque descent, admits even he can’t picture grass at Albertsons Stadium. But he says the field includes one Bronco element: Kentucky bluegrass. “It’s got the blue name in it,” he joked.