SACO – Lori Smith positioned her field hockey team at Thornton Academy to be the first to practice on the school’s artificial turf at Paul Hill Stadium today with a 7:30 a.m. practice. But she’ll have to wait a little longer to get on the school’s new field.

Continuing construction at the extensive project has prompted school officials to delay the use of the field at Hill Stadium for a little longer.

“It’s not quite ready,” said Gary Stevens, athletic director at Thornton Academy. “A few more days, maybe by the end of the week.”

Actually, the FieldTurf surface installed by Northeast Turf is ready, completely lined and painted. It’s the track surrounding the field that’s not quite finished.

The ambitious project — which began with a price tag of $1.2 million but will finish over $2 million because of several additions — included a turf field, new track, lights and new tennis courts at the school. It was expanded to include new home aluminum bleachers, a new press box and two new fields — a softball field and another practice field — cut into the woods behind the existing softball field.

Contractors worked on the track extensively on Thursday and Friday, spraying the rubberized surface, to allow access to the field. According to Stevens, it will take five thin layers to complete the job. Once the track surface dries, it will be lined. And then teams can access the field.

“We’ll have it eventually,” said Smith. “I’m not too worried. We didn’t have it at all last year.”

Of course, the quicker Smith’s field hockey team gets on the turf field, the better. Field hockey is the one fall sport that will benefit most from the new surface. The ball will move faster, with fewer bounces.

“Playing on turf helps (players) develop skills for the next level,” said Smith. “To be prepared for that type of game (on turf), where it’s more of a passing game, it’s critical to get on as soon as we can to prepare us for the whole season.”

Kevin Kezal, the football coach at TA, isn’t as concerned about getting on the field.

“Do we want to be there? Absolutely,” said Kezal. “But is it imperative? No. We’ve got some great practice facilities.”

In fact, Kezal said he prefers the school’s grass practice fields because he can get more individual work done there. He will use the turf for team practices.

“In the long run, it’s going to be very good for our athletic program,” he said. “Our spring sports, actually, are going to benefit most from it. Lacrosse, baseball, softball from Day One of preseason, they’re going to be outside.”

Eric Purvis, the president of the school’s Board of Trustees, said Hill Stadium will be one of the best facilities in the state when the project is completed.

The scope of the project grew throughout the process. Originally intended as a $1.2 million renovation of the football stadium and tennis courts, it was expanded to include the home bleachers — now with aluminum seating — and the new fields.

Purvis said the cost grew to about $2.5 million — all privately funded through gifts and a fund-raising campaign.

And while the renovation includes lights, the Trojans won’t be playing Friday night football games at home.

“Right now, we’re going to honor the tradition of Saturday afternoon football here at Thornton Academy,” said Stevens, adding that other sports will play night games.

For now, Stevens said, everyone is concentrating on getting the project done.

“There were a lot of different components to this project,” he said. “It was a busy summer of construction here.

“They’ve all done a great job, put in a yeoman effort to get us to this point. The end is in sight.”

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

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Twitter: MikeLowePPH