Bulldozers and backhoes rolled over a makeshift dirt ramp and through a gaping hole in the chain-link fence surrounding Santa Fe High School’s soccer and track complex Friday morning.
By the afternoon, most of the rubberized black track that once encircled an artificial turf field had been scraped clean. Same, too, for parts of the fake green grass that has been the home of Santa Fe High soccer for several years.
The facility, which lies immediately south of Ivan Head Stadium and Toby Roybal Memorial Gymnasium, is undergoing a major face-lift, thanks to funding approved at a recent Santa Fe Public Schools Board of Education meeting.
Crews will work virtually nonstop over the next two months to complete a $2.1 million upgrade that will see extensive repairs.
They feature a new turf field, a new track, vastly improved subsurface drainage and an electrical conduit for the future installation of lights and a scoreboard.
What’s more, they give the school’s aging athletics infrastructure a much-needed boost.
“It’s only about a month behind schedule, but at least they’re out there and the work is being done,” said Peter Graham, Santa Fe High track coach.
Graham has arguably spent more time on that track than anyone else since it was first installed about a decade ago. Over the years he has seen its surface wrinkle and crack in New Mexico’s unforgiving climate.
There was a spot, he said, in Lane 1 down at the south end where the surface had peeled away, exposing the crumbling subsurface. Then there was the area that was set on fire by vandals and subsequently replaced.
“And then there was a little dip by the finish line,” Graham said. “A couple of kids would hit that wrong and even though it wasn’t much, it was enough to throw them off. It will be nice to get rid of that.”
Graham lauded the work of former Santa Fe Public Schools athletic director Skip Hemperley and current AD Kim Loomis for getting the project off the ground.
While his teams are not directly affected by the upgrades, Santa Fe High football coach Ray Holladay said he’s excited to see the work being done. For years his Demons used the turf field for practice. Two years ago they shifted their training exclusively to the neighboring baseball field.
Still, he said the improvements benefit all.
“My own son runs on that track and jumps in those pits, and a lot of my players run on that field,” he said. “I believe in multi-sport athletes. What good are they if they don’t have a safe place to be in?”
Holladay said there were discussions about replacing the natural grass in Ivan Head Stadium with artificial turf because the 5,500-seat football facility is one of the city’s biggest consumers of water. He balked at that idea.
“You do the work where it’s needed most, and right now that’s [the soccer and track complex],” he said.
Paul Baca, director of the SFPS General Services Division, confirmed that future plans could potentially bring lights and a scoreboard to the soccer and track facility.
For now, most of the work entails steering water away from the track and its turf through vastly upgraded drainage systems.
Bleachers will also be installed and the lanes used for the long jump, pole vault and triple jump will be moved outside the track’s perimeter.
Roughly one-third of the project’s cost will be used to pay for the new turf and track.
The rest, including more than $224,000 earmarked for fresh subsurface asphalt, goes toward elements most athletes and fans will never see.
“What this does is make that field a premier soccer pitch and the track one of the best in the state,” Holladay said. “We needed that. People might ask why we didn’t turf Ivan Head instead. I say Ivan Head will survive another few years as a grass facility, but that field wouldn’t survive that long without help.”