A Never-Ending Battle

In the last few years, the term, “home-field advantage,” has taken on a whole new meaning. With modern technologies, the athletic-sport field has advanced in durability, comfort, aesthetics and safety, particularly in high-school sports. Where athletic fields were once reserved for varsity game day, they can now support practices, competitions in various sports and physical education classes--all on the same day--thanks to synthetic-turf fields.

In western New York, one of the most intense high-school football rivalries occurs between the Canisius High School Crusaders and the St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute Marauders. This rivalry has been featured as part of the U.S. Air Force National Rivalry Series, and even broadcast to U.S. troops around the world. The rivalry is so great that the schools even constructed their respective new synthetic-turf fields using different methods. Canisius used the typical “design-bid-build” method, while St. Joe’s used a construction manager (CM) and a negotiated-contracts approach.


The design-bid-build approach to construction is the most common construction delivery method. The president of Canisius High School approached one of Wendell Duchscherer Architects’ principals--a graduate of the school--to prepare construction documents for a new athletic complex in West Seneca, a suburb of Buffalo, NY. Canisius is located in the heart of Buffalo in a densely populated area and on a limited-sized campus, necessitating the need for an off-campus facility.

Because of the limited on-campus field, the teams had to be bused to other locations to compete, and desperately wanted a home field. After successful fundraising, the school purchased a 33-acre site in a first-ring suburb. Once the scope of this facility was decided, a design team of architects and engineers worked on the construction documents. The drawings and specifications in design-bid-build contain the entire layout on how a complex is to be built. These documents are used by various general contractors to bid, and the favorable bid wins the award.

At first, natural turf was to be used because the original field in the city was constructed of early-technology synthetic turf. That turf was so worn out it looked and played like outdoor carpeting. The school wanted a better and safer field for its players. After reviewing the newest turf technology, synthetic turf was chosen again. The most important reason for this decision was maintenance. Maintenance personnel at the school would have to travel 30 minutes to cut grass or line fields. Obviously, this was not necessary with synthetic fields. Professional sports teams and larger colleges tend to have dedicated employees for fields, and can take the time for these simple and necessary tasks; however, most high schools cannot afford the added tasks. Although there is still some maintenance with synthetic fields, it is far less.

Our company continued to work on this project as the owner’s representative to review construction progress, and to address any resulting issues. Since unknown conditions are always possible on a project site, we--as design professionals--were able to assist the owner from going over budget or being delayed beyond the anticipated finish date.

The complex is now home to all of the sports teams Canisius offers to its students--football, soccer, lacrosse and track and field. The multipurpose facility--now called the Robert J. Stransky Memorial Athletic Complex-- includes bleacher-seating, a flex classroom, storage and press boxes.

Construction Manager

St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute, which utilized a CM and contract-negotiation construction method, is located in the Tonawanda, which borders the city of Buffalo. The St. Joe’s campus was different than the Canisius campus in that it already had a quarter-mile cinder track encircling the football/soccer field and a baseball field on its premises. However, the students had a limited area to practice if they wanted the natural turf to be perfect for game day. The old athletic fields were good for one team per season.

A construction-savvy graduate of the school wanted to transform the old fields into a “state-of-the-art” athletic facility. He came to our company, in part, because a principal of our firm, a St. Joe’s graduate, needed to assess our services for master-plan design, permitting assistance and construction-observation assistance. This graduate performed as a CM for the school, and worked with us to develop a schematic design. From there, we created multiple contracts for each individual construction activity; including the synthetic-turf field and track, fencing (including the backstop) and upgrades to the bleachers, as well as new ones and new scoreboards.

The new design created a non-regulation, all-weather running track with practice-field areas around the new 184,000-square-foot synthetic-turf playing surface for football, soccer, lacrosse and baseball. The 11.9-acre multisport facility is now known as the Robert T. Scott AFSC Athletic Complex.

It Keeps Going …

Since St. Joe’s constructed its baseball field to include synthetic turf, Canisius is considering options for developing its complex, including the possibility of a new synthetic-turf baseball field. The school is also considering developing natural-grass practice fields so that the athletes can prepare for those schools that do not have synthetic turf.

Canisius High School and St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute are League AA members of the Monsignor Martin Athletic Association. In this league, the highest honor is the Supremacy Cup, which recognizes larger, independent Catholic high schools with the top overall athletic program. In the league’s 58-year history, one of these teams has won the cup more than 50 percent of the time. With the new sport complexes and synthetic-turf fields, this rivalry looks like it will continue for another 58 years.

Wendel Duchscherer A-E, PC, is a nationally recognized architectural and engineering firm dedicated to the betterment of the communities and industries it serves. For more information, visit www.wd-ae.com.

Robert J. Frazer , lead landscape architect for the project, has been with Wendel since 2000 in the Landscape Architecture department.

Darryl L. Jones , a senior landscape architect and project manager, has been with Wendel since 1995 .