- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 3, 2007

D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission chairman Matthew Cutts really wanted to make sure members of the commission’s board got to see the progress of the Nationals new ballpark. After all, several of the board members had never been to the construction site, even though it’s the commission that’s overseeing the project. So, Cutts decided to hold the body’s May 2 meeting inside a trailer at the construction site, arranging for a tour afterward.

It seemed like a great idea, except that the board meeting went so long that every single board member — and Cutts — had to race off to other engagements before going on the tour. So much for that.

A bit of thanks must go out to sports commission CEO Allen Lew and Clark Construction project manager Matt Haas for sticking around and giving a personal tour to myself and our photographer, Bert Goulait.

I’m no construction expert, but it does seem like the ballpark is coming along quickly. We saw workers building some of the walls that will house the concession stands. And, the locker rooms and other areas of the ballpark’s “underbelly” are starting to take shape. The upper deck of the ballpark is totally in place, and the construction team is starting work on the northeast parking structure and will soon begin installing seating areas in the lower bowl.

As for why the commission’s board meeting went so long, it’s largely because the board was asked to consider several new measures, including a request from the District of Columbia Public Schools to renovate athletic fields at five high schools in the city. DCPS has proposed transferring $21 million to the commission to install new turf fields, lighting, running tracks, seating and scoreboards. The high schools benefitting from such work would be Wilson, Coolidge, Dunbar, Roosevelt and McKinley.

Performing such work would be a departure for the commission, which is generally not charged with performing work on behalf of the school system. But the commission has done some field renovations, including work at Fort Greble in Southeast and is currently involved in a plan to upgrade Kenilworth Park in Anacostia. The commission would get a $550,000 fee for doing the work in time for the fall sports season.

It also appears the sports commission has already given up on the Nationals’ chances of reaching the postseason this year. Board members Wednesday were asked to vote on a plan to install new “Duraturf” grass at RFK Stadium in order to accommodate top-tier soccer matches. Members deferred the vote until next week, but were generally supportive of the idea. And no one raised an objection when told of the start date for the field conversion: October 1.

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