Not only will Lodi Unified School District seniors be prohibited from wearing heels, eating sunflower seeds or chewing gum at this month’s graduations at the Grape Bowl, but their parents and other guests cannot greet them on the field at the end of the ceremony.

Plus, the district must buy an estimated 500 or more new chairs to fit guidelines set by the city of Lodi, which owns the field.

New synthetic turf was installed last fall as part of a $3 million renovation project.

To protect the material, the city directed the district to use chairs with a rail connecting the legs instead of those with four points, according to city spokesman Jeff Hood.

The rail creates a rounded corner to guard against holes in the turf and displaces the weight across a bigger surface.

Hood said the district was informed of the change at least a couple of months ago and its officials opted to buy new chairs instead of renting them.

“Not allowing four-leg chairs is pretty standard procedure at colleges with field turf fields,” he said. “The legs will sink way into the sand (and) tire crumb mixture, resulting in an uneven playing surface after the chairs come out. The manufacturer has specifications on field care that the city must abide by or void the warranty.”

Parks and Recreation director Jim Rodems said the school district also worked with the city on modifying the stage. It will now sit on structural plywood, so it will not damage the field.

It is not clear how much it is going to cost the district to replace its old chairs, as Art Hand, assistant superintendent of facilities and planning, declined to discuss the issue until graduation plans are finalized. He has a meeting to discuss those items today.

“We are working the city regarding their requests,” Superintendent Cathy Nichols-Washer said. “We want to make sure we respect their wishes, their rules and not do anything to harm that.”

She didn’t have any details regarding the chairs.

But the issue causing the most frustration for parents is that guests will not be allowed to go onto the field as is custom in years past. Instead, they have been directed to meet students in a parking lot off Calaveras Street.

“At first, parents and seniors were pretty ticked, but when we laid out for them our plan to have the graduates recede to the east parking lot, and have parents walk down the ramps to the east end ... most were very accepting, relieved and acknowledged that change is just tough, but we have found a workable alternative,” Tokay High School principal Erik Sandstrom said.

“Their big concern was they thought they would not get to come down and see or meet the graduates at all. We have made it clear they can still do that — they just have to do it 100 yards further to the east, and stay off the field in the process,” he said.

Staff at both high schools have informed parents of the changes through school newsletters, on their websites, and via Parent-Teacher-Student Association announcements and other communication sent home with students.

Grape Bowl renovations have also done more than remove dirt from the west end of the field. The work also involved removing a significant section of bleacher seating at the northwest end of the stadium, according to Lodi High School principal Bob Lofsted.

“That was an unexpected development,” he said.

The school has always made available 20 tickets to each graduate.

“We’ve packed them in, but they always fit,” Lofsted said of guests.

But now, due to the unanticipated seating capacity changes, seniors will be given only 12 tickets.

Graduations for Lodi and Tokay are the only ones affected, as the district’s other high school graduations are held at either Hutchins Street Square or University of the Pacific.

Lodi Unified board president George Neely was surprised by the new guidelines, and only found out when contacted by parents frustrated they won’t be allowed to congratulate their students immediately.

“It’s a shame that the students and parents can’t get together down on the field,” he said recalling that his parents likely met him in the same place after his 1970 graduation from Lodi High. “I just wish there was something we could do to come to an agreement with the city.”

Ronda Reynolds, who has two Lodi High graduates, would have been disappointed had she not been allowed to go onto the field to greet her daughters immediately after they received their diplomas.

“It’s a tradition and a time to let them know how proud you are of their efforts,” she said.

The class of 2010 enjoyed some of the city’s first Grape Bowl upgrades. Last May, the city completed a new ramp with railing from the field to the bleachers, and handicapped-accessible seating.

News-Sentinel staff writer Maggie Creamer contributed to this report.

Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at jenniferb@lodinews.com.

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