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[whitespace] Dead fields at two schools result from bad prep work

Sunnyvale--The playing field at Braly Elementary School makes Death Valley look lush. Beyond the fence that runs down Gail Avenue, grass the color of Mount Hamilton in high summer extends to a backstop a baseball field away. A similarly barren scene is found at Ponderosa Elementary. Both fields are now off-limits to kids and other users.

The vegetation was purposely killed off when it was discovered that planned improvements to the fields had not been done to the city's satisfaction, Parks and Recreation commissioner Robert Walker says.

The scheduled upgrade to the fields, which included paths around them, was designed to bring them up to the city's standards, which are set higher than the schools' standards, Walker says.

Under a joint use agreement, the city pays for improving the facilities in exchange for the right to use them during non-school hours. Walker calls it a win-win situation, as the city gets more space for sports and the schools get to use their limited money elsewhere--and to boast better fields.

But the dead fields won't be used by anyone until March.

Both areas--especially Ponderosa--had tremendous weed problems that resulted from seeds and plants that were not removed properly, according to Greg Jones, an engineer with the city.

Jones says Zolman Construction, the contractor who was hired to replant the fields, did not kill all the vegetation that had been there previously. The fields had been blighted with "very nasty" Kikuyu plants, he says, and the contractors tried to remove the weeds by hand. That didn't work. The uneven pitch of the field created another problem.

Though Jones says problems in construction are "dead normal," he says this particular problem was not.

"It was not what we expect to see," he says.

The work failed inspection, and the contractor will redo the seeding and pitching at no additional cost to the city, Walker says.

The contract with Zolman was for $330,000. Hamid Alaghemand of Zolman Construction says that tilling of the fields should begin next week.

Walker says that the real cost is that the fields are "not accessible to the public or to the kids." Estimates call for a March completion, Jones says.

Ponderosa principal Polly McBride puts a positive spin on the situation. She likens it to having a new kitchen put in: it's an inconvenience, but the improvements make it worth it.

"It's really nice to have something to look forward to," McBride says. "We'd like to have it as soon as possible, but it's going to be far superior to what we had before."

McBride says the day-to-day impact on her kids is mitigated by the city's allowing them to use an adjoining park during recess and a smaller field and a playground that were unaffected by the construction.
Sam Scott

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