Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Stadium in Sioux Falls, SD, to add wheelchair access

From The Argus-Leader:

Howard Wood Field (pictured) will stand one story taller at the conclusion of a $6.9 million renovation project scheduled to begin next month.

Officials redesigned the high school sports venue's new press and coaches boxes to sit above a new platform for handicap-accessible seating. At the top of the home side of the grandstand, there will be 36 spaces for handicapped spectators and 36 seats for their companions.

Jeff Kreiter, operational services director for the Sioux Falls School District, said the original design would have put those seats on either side of the press box, but spectators would not have been able to move from one side to the other.

The redesign puts the press box 10 feet higher and eight feet closer to the field and improves sightlines for the handicap-accessible seats beneath.

It's an improvement for everyone watching the action, Kreiter said, and "it was actually slightly cheaper."

With elevator-access, it should be a dramatic improvement for fans such as Charlene Harbert, who uses a scooter outside the home.

"When I was able to climb the bleachers, I would go to every Roosevelt game and some of the others," she said.

But with her mobility now limited by multiple disorders that cause pain and muscle weakness, watching games at Howard Wood no longer is much fun. The 54-year-old stadium was built decades before Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act, and it has no wheelchair-accessible spaces above ground level.

"It's not as fun because all I see is helmets and butts," Harbert said. "It's just not a very friendly place."

The entire project - rebuilding the press and coaches boxes and replacing the track and concrete grandstand - should be done in time for the 2012 high school football season. That's three years behind the original repair schedule, which was postponed while the city and school district considered building a new events center on the site.

Construction bids are due back to the school district March 29, and precast manufacturing for the grandstands will begin soon after. The significant work will begin after the Festival of the Bands in October, the stadium's last major event this year, and the track will be rebuilt starting in May 2012 after the Howard Wood Relays.

School officials point out the new stadium will function much like the old one, but there are some upgrades. The coaches boxes will have restrooms for the first time, as well as a commons area and two-tiered seating, and will be better equipped for technology.

From the parking lot, fans will see a grid of metal panels and windows on the back of the new press box. Depending on the bids, fans also might see a series of large mesh banners with sports themes that distract their eyes from the concrete columns.

"I think it turned out very nice," Kreiter said of Koch Hazard Architects' design. "It's going to give it a totally different look."

The most fan-friendly amenity will be installed next month - a $785,000 Daktronics video scoreboard with instant replay. Sanford Health gave the district $600,000 for the scoreboard, and insurance proceeds from the collapse of the old scoreboard will cover the rest.