Sinkholes close Stadium Bowl

Three sinkholes that have appeared at Stadium Bowl have prompted Tacoma Public Schools to close the iconic athletic facility at Stadium High School.

Engineering tests scheduled for next week will determine whether the damage can be repaired in time for the first events of the school year scheduled in the bowl or whether a longer closure is needed. Scheduled events include girls soccer matches Sept. 8 and Sept. 10, and a Stadium vs. Wilson football game scheduled for Sept. 11.

A district news release said a recent inspection by geotechnical engineers discovered failures in the historic stadium’s underground drainage system — a combination of the original 1910 pipes and modern additions.

For now, Stadium Bowl remains closed to all public access due to safety concerns. Gates are locked and closed signs hang from the gates. Soon, no trespassing signs will also be posted.

School district spokesman Dan Voelpel emphasized that safety is a real concern.

“We have people jumping the locked gates, disregarding the ‘field closed’ signs and going in to work out,” he said.

He said school patrols will be increased to ensure people stay out of the bowl.

While school doesn’t start until Sept. 9, district sports teams are already practicing. Stadium’s football and girls soccer teams are practicing at Jason Lee Middle School. And district athletic director Sam Reed has moved other practices and community sports to other locations.

“We are crossing our fingers that the inspection next week will show that we can fill the sinkholes and play,” Voelpel said.

Reed said that “we have enough high-quality fields in the district until middle school girls soccer starts up soon. That’s when the pinch happens.”

So far, Reed said, “coaches have been understanding and accommodating.”

In the meantime, the athletic department is working on a master schedule in the event Stadium Bowl remains closed for an extended period. That could mean a major reshuffle of events already scheduled at other district facilities, including stadiums at Mount Tahoma and Lincoln high schools.

One of the Stadium sinkholes is located on the 15-yard line closest to Commencement Bay, another near a catch basin by the visiting team grandstand, and another on the track in front of the visiting team grandstand.

The most recent sign of damage — the depression near the 15-yard line — was spotted Aug. 21. The field was closed that day as a precaution. The other two sinkholes had appeared in May. Voelpel said the field wasn’t closed then because the holes weren’t on the playing field and there wasn’t an immediate need to fix them. Reed said those two holes were covered.

Earlier this week, contractor GeoEngineers used ground-penetrating radar to view the damaged areas. The company also reviewed drainage maps and the long history of damage at Stadium Bowl.

Last November a rainstorm flooded clogged drains uphill from Stadium Bowl and caused the stadium to flood, washing away dirt from the bowl hillside and spreading mud and debris across the field. The bowl remained closed for extensive cleanup until spring sports season opened in March. It was one of several major washouts that have occurred over the years.

In 2007, a 2-foot sinkhole next to the football field prompted the relocation of several soccer and football games and cost the school district more than $25,000 to repair.

This time, there are concerns that the damage could be more widespread, Voelpel said.

The recent assessment by engineers indicated that the drainage system failed in multiple areas, allowing gravel and sand to wash through the pipes.

Next week, a team including district personnel, a field turf company and a contractor will cut back the turf and probe additional areas where the radar images indicate potential problems.

Voelpel did not have an estimate of how much the recent sinkhole problem has cost the school district so far.

And it’s uncertain how heavy rains predicted for this weekend will affect the sinkholes.

News Tribune staff writer T.J. Cotterill contributed to this report.

Mother Nature vs. Stadium Bowl

Tacoma’s high school named for a sports stadium started out in 1906 as Tacoma High School. It was only after the stadium opened in 1910 that the school was rechristened Stadium High School.

The bowl has been taking it on the chin from Mother Nature ever since.

A storm drain under the bowl burst in 1932 following heavy rains. The big earthquake of 1949 cracked seating areas and retaining walls, and the facility was condemned. It took until 1960 to restore the stadium to a point where football games could again be played in the bowl.

After years of fundraising, another overhaul was completed in 1980. But a year later, a 36-inch storm drain pipe cracked, flooded the bowl and triggered a mudslide onto Schuster Parkway below.

Following a lengthy lawsuit, the repaired bowl was rededicated in 1985.

Despite its battered history, Stadium Bowl has earned its place in the annals of high school football and beyond.

Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson spoke there. Baseball legend Babe Ruth and boxer Jack Dempsey gave sports exhibitions there. John Philip Sousa’s band made music there.

More recently, ESPN in 2008 ranked Stadium Bowl the 11th best stadium for football in the country. And sports website Max Preps named it one of 10 high school football stadiums to see before you die.

SOURCE: News Tribune files