When Wingnuts general manager Josh Robertson was approached by the city about renovating Lawrence-Dumont Stadium before the 2010 season, he was told time and funds constraints may not allow the concession stands, dugouts and playing surface to be redone at once.
Robertson was given the choice of which project took priority. He chose the concession stands because spending less time in line for food enhanced the fan experience.
The 2011 renovations have mostly benefitted the players.
A new artificial surface was installed, along with the widening and deepening of the dugouts. Those are the most noticeable of the many improvements at Lawrence-Dumont. They were paid for by the city's capital improvement program, a fund used to enhance city-owned buildings and other investments.
"The wall pads, the turf, the dugouts — there's a lot of things that were improved this year that are going to affect the players more than the fans," Robertson said. "But it's still, from a fan's perspective, very nice to look at."
Some of the minor improvements were paid for by the Wingnuts' remaining insurance money from the hail storm of 2009, which damaged the video board, some seating, and other areas of the stadium.
The major work to the 77-year-old stadium, which included the field installation, dugout reconstruction and a new lighting and electrical system, was contracted out to local companies and totaled about $2.2 million, Robertson said.
The work began on Feb. 23 and was mostly completed in about two months, though the finishing touches are still being put on before the Wingnuts' home opener on Friday.
ATG, which put down artificial surfaces at several area high schools, won the bid to replace the turf, a $980,000 project. ATG included in its bid the expansion of the dugouts, which was originally planned to be done separately.
"It was essentially killing two birds with one stone," Robertson said. "It was awesome."
The field resembles the one at Wichita State's Eck Stadium in that every part except the pitcher's mound is artificial, meaning no dirt on the infield. But Lawrence-Dumont didn't have dirt base paths, anyway, with an unsightly astroturf that was becoming more damaged each season.
The new surface features a mammoth Wingnuts logo in center field and logos behind home plate and near the on-deck circles on both sides of the home-plate.
"The funnest part for me, through this whole project was when you started seeing big chunks of the turf going down and it getting laid out," Robertson said. "Then the logos came in."
Robertson and his front-office staff will probably be most thankful for the new turf during the NBC Tournament, when games are played essentially around the clock and groundskeeping must be done between each game, making it almost impossible to stay on schedule.
Now the field will never need to be chalked, the grass never watered, and rain delays will be shorter because there is no tarp to put on then remove and rain will drain more quickly.
"They don't have to hear me running in here, throwing a rain jacket on, saying, 'Tarp pull! Five minutes!' " Robertson said. "There's times we'd have to pull the tarp on and off seven times a day, and it's brutal. If anybody has never been involved in a tarp bull, it's brutal, especially in this Kansas wind."
The other major aspect of the recent renovation is the lighting and electrical system, which cost more than $1 million, Robertson said. There are eight new light poles with new bulbs that allow the Wingnuts to exceed the lighting standards of the upper levels of the minor leagues.
There will also be access to electricity from more locations inside the stadium, including behind the pitcher's mound.
"We have a major-league lit facility," Robertson said. "It's awesome. It's lit up like a Christmas tree."
There are aspects of the improvements that some fans may never see or notice, like base anchors at different distances, which allow the stadium to host youth baseball games or slow-pitch softball tournaments.
Most of it will be accessible, though, such as the artwork on the concourse, wall pads in the outfield and down the base lines, and the new "Lawrence-Dumont Stadium" sign on the outside of the stadium.
The enhancements can help improve the on-field product by making Wichita a more attractive destination for players.
"Your facility and your city are the biggest recruiting tools that you've got as a general manager or a manager trying to get players to come in here," Robertson said. "Not what you eat for postgame spreads or this and that and the other. It's the town and the facility."