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State-of-the-Art in Sandpoint
War Memorial Field undergoes significant face-lift
Published: 4/27/2021 10:11:07 AM

The new baseball field at War Memorial Field in Sandpoint (Photo courtesy of Sandpoint Athletic Director Kris Knowles)

Ryan Knowles still remembers when the football disappeared in the muck during the hook-and-ladder play that splashed through the mud. Kris Knowles likes to recall the time the press box began to sway as a storm rolled through town.

Anecdotes like these contribute to the character and spirit of the old Barlow Stadium and War Memorial Field in Sandpoint. But these days, and for years to come, the hope is for memorable moments to take a different tone.

The historic and cherished venue underwent major renovations last summer that improved the quality and longevity of its playing surface, advanced the architecture and safety of its grandstands and, moreover, prolonged the lifespan of one of the city’s most-used public spaces. The new-and-improved War Memorial Field, featuring artificial turf that’s striped for football, soccer, lacrosse, baseball and softball, hosted its first events this past fall and provides the city, as well as Sandpoint High School, a new source of pride.

“I’ve been all over the Northwest, really (all) over the West Coast, for high school facilities, college facilities,” Kris Knowles, Sandpoint High’s athletic director, said. “For a small little town in Northern Idaho to have that type of facility, it’s unbelievable.”

War Memorial Field was constructed in the late 1940s and, before its recent facelift, hadn’t undergone many big changes over the years. The grass turf was overused and didn’t drain well, and the covered grandstands, which were wooden, were deemed unsafe in 2012. Community fundraising efforts illustrated the city’s adoration for the site, but did not aggregate enough money to pay for the nearly $3 million restoration project.

In 2015, Sandpoint voters passed a 1% local option sales tax that was dedicated to improving War Memorial Field, Barlow Stadium and other city parks projects. The tax was imposed on Jan. 1, 2016 and, before expiring at the end of 2020, raised approximately $6.75 million — in addition to over $500,000 of grants and donations, according to the Bonner County Daily Bee.

The multi-phase project began with the renovation of the Barlow Stadium grandstands, which had previously been “patched and Band-Aided” over and over again, Kris Knowles said. The aging wood was replaced with concrete and metal, and locker rooms were installed under the surface.

The old wooden building was the site of Kris Knowles’ fondly remembered scrape with disaster, when he was atop the structure in the teetering press box during a stormy soccer game.

“This wind storm starts coming in and I’m sitting in the press box and the whole thing is just moving,” Kris Knowles said. “I remember texting my wife, like, if this thing goes down, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

The old bleachers and press box at War Memorial Field in Sandpoint (Photo courtesy of Sandpoint Athletic Director Kris Knowles)

Next was the installation of artificial turf, which provides a more consistent and durable playing surface, as well as better drainage — a constant battle in Sandpoint. The baseball and softball diamonds are all-artificial, including the pitching mounds, eliminating the daily maintenance natural-grass-and-dirt fields require. Same goes for the football field, which is also lined for soccer and lacrosse.

Ryan Knowles, Sandpoint’s football coach, was a sophomore on the Bulldogs’ football team years ago when they faced Post Falls for the conference championship. Late-season games at Sandpoint often turned slippery on the natural grass, and the one Ryan Knowles recalls fits that description.

“It was nasty. You couldn’t see anybody’s number. Everyone was just brown out on the field,” he said of the muddy conditions. “I vividly remember a hook-and-ladder; no one could figure out who was running the ball. It was just down a muddy sideline.”

The artificial turf was met with pushback for several reasons, Kris Knowles said. The fields, which are owned by the city, facilitate more than just Sandpoint High School athletics. They’re used for youth sports and by the general public and host graduations and The Festival at Sandpoint, an annual weeklong concert series. Some events, namely The Festival at Sandpoint, are better on grass.

But all the foot traffic — and the weather — wear the grass out. The Festival at Sandpoint sells up to 4,000 tickets each summer and concludes shortly before Sandpoint’s fall sports seasons begin. Artificial turf, Kris Knowles said, absorbs the crowds better for longer.

War Memorial Stadium hosts an estimated 30,000 people per year.

“The most high-performing grass surface you would think of is a golf course,” Kris Knowles said. “And if you put a putting green or a fairway out there and then played a 10-day music festival, seven varsity football games, including playoffs, and 18 soccer games and all the youth sports and all the practices, that thing would be toast in one year. There’s no way it would survive.”

The next phase, which began in late March, adds dugouts, an expanded parking lot, new restrooms and includes multiple alterations to the boat launch area at Pend Oreille River, War Memorial Field’s picturesque backdrop, according to the Daily Bee.

The current product isn’t perfect, however. A single scoreboard serves the football, soccer and lacrosse sections of the complex, but there isn’t one, yet, for baseball or softball. And the baseball and softball outfields overlap, creating practice conflicts.

The softball team, which played its games on a grass-and-dirt field at the high school before the War Memorial Field renovations were made, sometimes practices at its old venue to avoid schedule issues with Sandpoint’s baseball team.

But largely, softball coach Elizabeth Hawkins-Williams said, the new artificial turf fields create more solutions than problems.

“We’ve been able to get out and practice on a full field much earlier than normal,” Hawkins-Williams said. “On our dirt field we had a tarp over the infield, but we still had to wait for the ground to thaw in order to get on the dirt. So a lot of times we’d be on the grass or in the parking lot next to the field, so we never were able to do a practice with our full infield and outfield.

“So that was huge. We got to start using (the new field) right away for full team defensive practices.”

Years from now, when the athletes being coached by Ryan Knowles and Hawkins-Williams are asked about their experiences at the new War Memorial Field, the hope is that they don’t have to recite tales of teetering towers and muddied up fields, but instead, positive memories of a state-of-the-art site overlooking the water.

“It just generates a lot of excitement around our program that this belongs to us, we have this and no one else does,” Hawkins-Williams said. “We’re very proud of that. We’re very thankful to the City of Sandpoint for passing it and building this amazing athletic stadium for all of these sports to use.”


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