City of Mill Valley Completes Friends Field Renovation Project

Friends Field, at the Mill Valley Community Center, is Mill Valley’s largest and most used sports field. A natural grass field, constructed in 2001, through a public/private partnership between the City of Mill Valley and the non-profit, Friends of Fields. Friends Field recently received a major renovation, which the City of Mill Valley undertook with the help of a donation from the Mill Valley Friends of Parks and Recreation.

The field and the site of the current Community Center was originally the Mill Valley Dump. After it was sealed over, the City used it for recreation programming.

“The old Community Center was a small cabin, and the field would bubble up at second base!” Resident Rich Robbins recalled. “Building the new Center and Friends Field was a great community project, a true public/private partnership led by folks from all areas locally and with some great vision by the City Council, City Manager Don Hunter, civic leaders, and Friends of Fields.”

The field was built with a base of sand, the ideal growing medium for a heavy usage grass field thanks to its ability to drain quickly and resist compaction - both critical to healthy root growth. Over the years the porosity of a sand based field is reduced as organic material builds up in a dense layer in the top inches of the ground, inhibiting drainage as well as root growth. In addition, Friends Field had settled unevenly across its site.

The aim of the Friends Field renovation project was to remove the top layer of organic matter, replenish the sand, grade the field and install new sod to return the field to top playing condition. Due to high demand for usage of the field, and the unknown length of time it would take for the new sod to grow in, the work had to be completed within a very short timeframe.

Starting the day after Memorial Day, May 28th, City staff got to work removing the existing grass and organic matter, making short work of the 120,000 square foot field with a Koro Field Topmaker, a specialized tractor attachment. The Mill Valley Friends of Park and Recreation had previously donated the entire cost of the Koro Field Topmaker to the City. The edges of the field were dug out by hand. The 72 irrigation heads were then buried, allowing the field to be rototilled before handing over to the grading contractor.

Watch a video of the renovation here.

Using laser guided grading equipment, the grading contractor cut, filled and spread the existing sand to a consistent 1.5% slope, east to west, while leaving room along the edges to taper the new sand to meet the elevations of surrounding hardscapes. 800 tons of sand was then delivered to the site to be spread evenly over the field. The finish grade was achieved when the new sand was feathered in by hand along the edges, ensuring a smooth transition on all sides.

City staff returned to dig up the irrigation heads, adjusting them to new elevations and ensuring the irrigation would be uniform across the new field. The irrigation was turned on and the field drenched, allowing the sand to settle before confirming the final grade remained, before the sod arrived.

The sod, a variety of Bermudagrass suited to Bay Area conditions called “Tifway II”, arrived in 105-foot long by 3.5 foot wide rolls. These were moved by forklift to the field, where they were then unrolled, carpeting the entire field within 2 days. Irrigation was immediately turned on, and for the first 3 days the sod was kept wet to reduce transplant shock. At the first sign of root growth, the water was reduced, and as the roots of the new sod develop, it will continue to be cut back.

The City appreciates the support and patience of our partners, local youth sports organizations and field users during this extended field closure and renovation process including Mill Valley School District, Mill Valley Friends of Parks & Recreation, Mill Valley Little League, Mill Valley Girls Softball, Mill Valley Soccer Club, Southern Marin Broncos, and Southern Marin Lacrosse.

“Thank you to everyone who has shared their support of this amazing athletic field!” Jenny Rogers, Director of Arts and Recreation said. “I've gotten a ton of compliments on the renovation and I know all our youth sports group folks, especially the kids, are super excited to get out there and play!”

The construction phase of the project was completed on June 20th and the Tifway II Bermudagrass is growing in well – on target for Friends Field to be open for play in September.

From a recent Staff Report on the matter: "The estimated cost to remove and replace the Friends Playfield is $205,000, including an $18,600 contingency to cover unforeseen issues. The Friends of Parks and Recreation and various Sport Clubs have pledged a $50,000 donation commitment to this project with the funds anticipated early this summer."