In the summer leading up to the 2016-17 school year, ground was broken at Thomas Field in the construction of a new grandstand and press box.
The project had an estimated completion date set for some time before the baseball season. However, currently a month into the season, the stands are still not completed and have very little chance of being completed by season’s end. In light of the setbacks in construction, the new estimated date of completion is for the spring of 2018.
“The school has been extremely helpful throughout this entire process and have done everything correct in trying to help us get this project off the ground,” said Art Jens, the contractor and voluntary builder to the project. “Facilities has also been a huge help, as they’ve been out here helping me build the stands and trying to get this done.”
Jens, who is the father of senior first baseman Max Jens, is generous enough to donate his time to help speed up the process of finishing the stands. He explained the building plans to The Grizzly, and the project is more complicated than most had anticipated.
As of right now, the only type of stands or bleachers that are present at Thomas Field are movable steel stands, which are placed in the west parking lot. This is dangerous for both fans and vehicles. Seating capacity is also limited as all of the fans attending each game cannot be accommodated.
The grandstand, which will be located on the third base side of the field and behind home plate, is guaranteed to have more seating than the current bleachers.
So if the project was supposed to be finished by the start of the season, why are they still working on it?
“The area behind home plate was a little bit tougher than we thought because of how bad the ground was,” said Jens. “Since it’s on a big incline, we had to dig deeper into the ground to put the cementing in, and we’ve had some trouble getting the crane here.”
Plans for the grandstand also include a press box. Currently the games are filmed at the top of the hill, while the stat keepers and media sit at a table behind the backstop to home plate. The new press box will give people streaming at home a better view, will ensure the stat keepers have a better game experience, and will provide seating and audio for color commentators if Ursinus wants to have them.
The stands located along the third base line are also taking longer to build because of the dugout which was built too high—this also means that seating needs to be high in order to see over the dugout, according to Jens.
Another reason why it’s taking longer than expected is that the plans include using a coating on the stands rather than standard paint. Paint fades over time, so an initial investment will actually save money in the long run. This, however, is driving up the cost of the project.
Athletic Director Laura Moliken believes the contractors are making great progress and is understanding of the delays.
“Construction means progress! … As is often the case with construction, there can be delays for a variety of reasons,” she stated. “The donor and our facilities staff have been hard at work on the project (now that the weather is more cooperative).”
As of right now, the baseball stadium is one of the only fields at the school which doesn’t have ample seating. Snell Field, where the field hockey team plays, not only has stands but also a home section and an away section. Patterson Field, used by football, lacrosse, soccer, and track and field, has large stadium style seating with a press box at the top, as well as an away section for fans of the opposing team.
The stands, a pretty expensive project considering all of the material required for their constructed, has been funded by not only the school but also by donations from parents of players on the team.
“It’s obviously a little disappointing when someone donates the money thinking they’ll get to use what they’re paying for and then it takes longer than expected and they don’t get to use it,” said senior captain Jake Banks, whose parents donated money toward the project. “I am happy it’s being built, though, because we need stands and it’s going to look really nice someday.”
For now, the bleachers will remain in the parking lot, and the use of lawn chairs around the stadium will still be permitted. Construction is ongoing and will be ongoing for the next few months with the hope that the grandstand will be completed for the 2018 season.
You can watch the men play next at home Fri., April 7 against Haverford College at 3:30 p.m.