Several Butte-Silver Bow commissioners are worried the county has wasted $30,000 by having a turf sod laid directly on top of gravel mix in big areas around the new baseball stadium at Copper Mountain Sports Complex.
County officials acknowledge that a landscaping contractor that supplied the sod advised against the move, as did Pioneer Technical, a go-to engineering firm the county pays for analysis and expertise on construction and design matters.
But Public Works Director Dave Schultz and Parks Director J.P. Gallagher say the turf sod was laid over the same gravel-sand mix at Skyline Park, took root and is doing fine now, and they’re confident the same will happen at Copper Mountain.
They said Tuesday that grass roots are starting to take in areas sodded about two weeks ago in front and to the sides of the stadium, which opened in late May as part of a $2.3 million project.
“I’m not a sod expert but I rely very much on these guys who do this year in and year out and they say this is a true-and-tried method,” Schultz said.
Some commissioners are more than skeptical, and on Monday, several sections of sod lifted as easily as a door mat on concrete, with few signs of roots clinging to the gravel mix.
“The Cleveland Browns have a better chance of winning the Super Bowl this year than this grass living into next year,” said Commissioner Bill Andersen, referring to the notoriously bad NFL team that finished 1-15 last year.
Numerous turf, landscaping and home improvement sites on the Internet speak to the topic, and virtually all recommend against sod being placed directly on top of any gravel, saying several inches of top soil are needed first.
Commissioner Dan Callahan said he has little doubt “they wasted $30,000.”
“We will have to dig this whole thing up, lay down top soil and do it all over again,” he said.
There are other commissioners, including Dan Olsen and Cindy Perdue-Dolan, with serious concerns about the move.
Olsen serves on Butte’s Friends of the Urban Forestry Board and is a master gardener, and although he said that does not make him an expert, “It is not the proper way to put turf down.”
Schultz said he was trying, on behalf of Chief Executive Dave Palmer, to arrange a meeting with at least two commissioners Wednesday to discuss the matter.
The sod was purchased from an area landscaper as one of the finishing touches on the $2.3 million project at Copper Mountain that included a new stadium for American Legion baseball and other improvements.
The Dennis & Phyllis Washington Foundation donated $1 million to the project, and NorthWestern Energy, the American Legion and numerous businesses also gave time, labor or money. An opening ceremony was held May 26.
Gallagher said $30,000 was paid for the turf sod and it was put down about two weeks ago to the sides and in front of the stadium, including the area with flag poles.
Project expenses had gotten quite high, he said, and Schultz said it could have cost an additional $10,000 to $15,000 to put down top soil.
They said the county has plenty of the asphalt-gravel mix because it is mostly remnants of streets dug up to fix water pipes or install new ones. The county no longer has a sod farm, so the turf was purchased from an area landscaper.
Gallagher and Schultz said the landscaper advised against the sod going directly on top of the gravel, and Gallagher said Pioneer Technical also voiced concerns about that. The Butte firm was the county’s consultant for the Copper Mountain project.
But both said the same thing had been done at Skyline Park off of Continental Drive and it was now doing great, so the same material was put down at Copper Mountain.
“It does have a lot of gravel in it but it also has a lot of nutrients,” Gallagher said.
There is top soil below the mixture that’s part of an environmental “cap” put over old landfill material, Gallagher said. The areas are being watered heavily, but that is normal practice for new sod, he said.
He noted that most of the areas are “lush and green” and said if the sod wasn’t taking, “it would be dying already.” He said roots were starting to take hold, but even so, it takes a month to month-and-a-half to really get established.
Schultz said there are parks employees “who have done this for a living for a long time” and he’s confident they are right about this, too.
He said the landscaper gave his best advice, and like any homeowner does, the county “takes that into consideration and makes a decision.”
“We made a decision,” he said.
But several commissioners believe it was a bad one, and say the extensive watering will only keep the grass alive so long. Where water isn’t standing in puddles, it squishes up like a sponge when walked on.
“They have it looking nice and green and pretty but pretty is only skin deep,” Andersen said.
Callahan said county officials would say everything is fine, “but it won’t take root.” Olsen said the landscaper and consultant told him they had the same concerns, and now he shares them.
He also noted that the several entities donated time and money to the Copper Mountain project, and “if they understand that Butte-Silver Bow is cutting corners,” they might not make future donations to Butte.