High School Sports

Arroyo Grande, Nipomo football teams to play away from home until stadium renovations are completed

Teams to play home games at alternative locations

Arroyo Grande Nipomo football teams to play away from home until delayed stadium renovations are complete

ARROYO GRANDE, Calif. - Ongoing stadium renovations at Arroyo Grande and Nipomo high schools will not be completed in time for the start of upcoming football season.

As a result, Lucia Mar Unified School District announced Tuesday several home games will have to be moved to alternative locations.

"The first four (Arroyo Grande) home games are going to be relocated due to delays in the stadium construction," said Jim Empey, Lucia Mar Assistant Superintendent, Business Services.

Empey personally broke the news to the Eagles varsity football team this morning, explaining how and why a majority of their homes games will not be played in Doug Hitchen Stadium.

The district also sent out letters to parents at both schools Tuesday explaining the situation and detailing the project.

"There were some delays that we couldn't control," said Empey. "In particular, this whole project was in one package and the bleachers that we need for the visitors section were held up because they redid the safety testing and they're still held up."

Empey said the district submitted plans to the Department of the State Architect (DSA) in October with the belief construction would begin in February.

Renovations at both locations includes new bleachers, new press boxes, new grass playing surface, new all-weather track and other additions.

Under the planned timeline, upgrades to both facilities would have been completed in time for June graduations.

Instead, Empey said DSA has put all school construction projects involving bleachers on hold, which delayed work until May,

As a consequence, graduation ceremonies at both schools were relocated to alternative on-campus locations.

Several weeks later, Lucia Mar is still waiting for the green light to install bleachers.

In addition, construction was delayed at Arroyo Grande due to a number of complexities discovered during ground work.

"There are unseen conduits that supply water to up on the hill," said Empey. "There is an old railroad line that runs through here. We had no idea what we were getting into when we were digging up because this hadn't been developed for so long. Every time when we would dig something up, we would have to either replace it and get approval from the state architect to replace it properly and it's just a very slow process."

With work still ongoing, Arroyo Grande will now have to move its first four home games.

It's season opener was scheduled to be a home game versus San Luis Obispo on Friday, Aug. 23.

The game will now be played as a road game in San Luis Obispo. The switch will give Arroyo Grande two consecutive home games against their longtime Central Coast rival in the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

Arroyo Grande will also play Centennial (Bakersfield) on Aug. 30 and Lompoc on Sept. 13 at Pioneer Valley High School.

In addition, the Sept. 27 game with Bullard (Fresno) will be played at Nipomo.

"It definitely presents a challenge," said Arroyo Grande Athletic Director Stephen Field. "It's nice to be home. It's nice for the team to be home and not have to travel and play in front of their home fans, but there's no doubt, our community is extremely supportive and I have no doubt that they're going to rally behind us."

Empey admitted moving home games is likely to impact attendance and concession sales, but said it will include many familiar features found in Hitchen Stadium.

"Our administration will go to those sites and will provide security, provide supervision, and we'll provide the concessions workers," Empey said. "Everybody has to go there and do what we would do here, so everything from, we'll collect the gate, we collect the concessions, we'll clean up the field, we do everything."

As for Nipomo, renovations to its stadium aren't quite as excessive as those happening at Arroyo Grande.

Nipomo's stadium was built in the early 2000's and has been used since the school opened in 2002. 

Hitchen Stadium is much older and has been used since the 1950's.

"The (Nipomo) irrigation doesn't have to be replaced," said Empey. "The drainage doesn't have to be fixed. There's less work to begin with. The stuff that is there is up to code unlike this school. The site itself was never developed. It was just farmland. At that school, it's just dig away and it's fast and there are no surprises."

However, the delayed work will end up costing Nipomo its scheduled home opener on Friday, Aug. 30.

The game with Cabrillo is now scheduled to be held at San Luis Obispo High School at 7:30 p.m.

"We're just really fortunate to have such a tight-knit community," said Nipomo Athletic Director Russ Edwards. "We all battle on the different playing surfaces, but ultimately, we all support each other locally, so we're really fortunate for San Luis Obispo High School and San Luis Coastal for allowing us to play there that night."

Since bleacher approval is still tied up with DSA,  some of the work that can be done is being delayed until the green light is received.

"The visitors side bleachers will likely not be completed because they haven't been approved yet across the state, so we'll provide temporary bleachers," said Empey. "The press box is part of the bleachers, so we can't separate that, so we'll have to deal with a temporary press box situation, so those will not be done."

It means that when the stadiums do open up, they actually won't be a finished product.

"So what you won't see at the first home will likely be the visitors bleachers, the press box and the fully finished track, but everything else from a football players standpoint, the sod and the irrigation will be good," said Empey.

If not completed during the football season, those renovations would take place at some point in the future once DSA approval finally happens.

"You have to think long term, Yes, we are definitely not going to have that completed project for this coming season," said Edwards. "Our stadium, as our local folks know, really hasn't been completed, so longterm, beyond this season, it's going to be a way nicer stadium than we've ever had and I'm just excited about that fact. It's all positive and keep the right frame of mind. Ultimately,  football is football. We're going to get on the field on Friday nights and play, so we're looking forward to a good season."

Field agreed and emphasized that the final result will be something the community can be proud of.

"It's a small price to pay for the longterm benefits that we're going to receive," said Field. "Soon we'll all reap the benefits of that."

The stadium renovations are being paid through the Measure I, the $170,000,000 bond measure that was passed by South County voters in 2016.

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