Tank Think

Mountain View, California's new Graham sports complex is the result of a collaborative effort.

The city of Mountain View, Calif., is accustomed to innovation. Situated at the heart of Silicon Valley, the city lays claim to Google's Googleplex, as well as the headquarters of a number of other notable high-tech firms.

That might explain why Mountain View public works director Cathy Lazarus downplays the ingenuity of her city's new Graham sports complex - a $19.6 million project that buried an eight-million-gallon reservoir beneath ball fields shared by the city and school district. "It's a public works project, a parks project and a school project. A lot of people were involved," she says. "But the city and the district have a long history of cooperating, so we're dealing with that sort of environment."

Such a cooperative spirit is essential on any public construction project in Mountain View, where according to Lazarus, residential property costs upwards of $5 million per acre. "Of necessity, you have to come up with creative solutions," she says. "This is one that meets everyone's needs in a terrific way."

Each party gave what it could: The city paid for the lion's share of the project with water bonds, utility fees and park district revenues. The Mountain View-Whisman School District allowed use of its land for 99 years (the sports complex rests on Graham Middle School grounds) and pitched in $1 million of its own bond money. The city has agreed to maintain the fields for the next century, and the public can access the complex after school hours.

It's unlikely, though, that anyone is as excited as the 700 Graham students who retain first dibs on the complex's fields. For the past seven years, Graham's softball and soccer teams have had to play their home games at a nearby elementary school. But when the sports complex opens Dec. 16, the school will finally get to experience a home-field advantage. In addition, a 400-meter track and field-event stations surrounding the synthetic-turf football/soccer field will allow Graham to get its track and field program up and running.

Buried 40 feet beneath one end of that field is a 200-foot-diameter emergency water tank. The prestressed concrete reservoir is accompanied by a pump station, a groundwater well and an emergency generator, all of which are located on an adjacent city-owned property. Still, coordinating the placement of these components - plus a natural-grass soccer field/softball diamond, six volleyball courts and six basketball courts - onto a scant eight acres was what Lazarus calls "an engineering challenge."

It helped immensely that the project had the blessing of Graham's immediate neighbors, who put up with 30 months of construction - including the four-month-long excavation of 82,000 cubic yards of dirt, which required roughly 2,300 truck trips. "The overwhelming community support has probably been the most gratifying part of this project," says Lazarus. "Residents understand the need for good recreational facilities for their kids. They understand the need for an emergency water supply. They've helped make things go much more expeditiously."

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