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Next season, the Sweetwater Mustangs will be stomping on new turf, thanks to another generous donation from past Sweetwater High School graduate, Larry Durham.
Durham is a member of the class of 1961 and past owner of Durham Transportation, a private school bus company.
"We had been saving and preparing for this, but thanks to the generous and much appreciated donation, this improvement will be done without having to dip into those funds," Sweetwater Independent School District superintendant Terry Pittman said.
Sweetwater High School was one of the first high schools in West Texas to make the switch from grass to Astroplay turf nine years ago. According to Pittman, the cost to make the switch was rather costly, but also one that was met through the funding of Durham.
"He (Durham) wanted to see the switch happen and he provided the funding for it," Pittman said. "It was a generous donation and one that was and still is very much appreciated."
The new turf will be installed by Hellas Construction, a company based out of Austin. The school board decided on the company, after reviewing and hearing presentations from numerous other companies. Due to the respected reputation and current experience with the company, Pittman said that the school board decided that Hellas would be the best choice for this particular situation.
"They are the ones that installed our track a few years back," Pittman said. "The board made their decision after reviewing the company's reputation and background."
Hellas has installed numerous fields, including the one at the Dallas Cowboy stadium. They also included in their presentation their guarantee to not only stand behind their product, but to do so in a timely manner if the need should ever occur.
The decision for the new turf came after a testing company came out and surveyed the current field. According to Pittman, the turf is still safe, but is beginning to show signs of tremendous wear.
"We played nine seasons on the current turf," Pittman said. "Now, it is becoming unsafe to play on, and there are safety hazards that are beginning to appear."
According to Pittman, the new turf will be laid upon the current underpadding which should make the process short. The estimated time is three weeks. The work will begin at the beginning of March and should be completed by the end of the month.
"Having turf has allowed us to open up the field to the community and other school groups," Pittman said. "We don't have to worry about the field getting messed up or over used. Everyone can take advantage of it."
With the installation of turf, maintenance becomes almost non-existent. There is no watering or painting of lines that has to be done. About once a month, the field is groomed with a roller that is included in the installation cost.
"Last year we were able to have eight playoff games and several other varsity games in Mustang Bowl," Pittman said. "We have also been able to save about $30,000 to $35,000 per year in maintenance costs."
In 2002, when the turf was first installed, there were 11 playoff games that took place at the Bowl. With the added games, the entire community benefits; local restaurants and hotels see increased activity which helps boost the local economy. Also shortly after, the Sammy Baugh Classic was started, according to Pittman. Pee-wee football is also able to take advantage of the field, as well as the high school band and off season sports.
"There are studies that show turf may be safer to play on that actual grass," Pittman said. "Another advantage is that it's all-weather; games don't have to be cancelled due to inclement weather."
This time around the installation will be around $390,000, with no burden to the tax payers. According to Pittman, the first time around is more expensive due to the extra changes that have to be made for the conversion. The turf will come with an eight to 10 year guarantee.
"The product is a much better product than they had nine years ago," Pittman said. "We are expecting this to last the full eight years if not even longer."
Once the new turf has been installed, there will be one added addition; the field will take the name Durham Field, in honor of Durham's generous donation.
"It's great that he wants to give back and it is something that will continue to be greatly appreciated," Pittman said. "This will be Durham's 50th class reunion and we intend on making a special presentation, to show our gratitude."
Sports and community seems to be what it is all about; in addition to the donation for the new turf, Ron Stein has also made a donation for a new score board. Stein, owner of Texas TST, Inc. donated $12,000 for a new high school score board, which has already been installed in the SHS gym.
"It's nice to know that we have so many great citizens here that are willing to help out the school," Pittman said.