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The Trend to TurfLarge and small programs across the country in all types of climates are switching to synthetic turf.
© January 2009
AFM: Thousands of high schools and colleges have switched to synthetic turf for football facilities in recent years. What major factors have led to this trend?
Joe Fields of FieldTurf: Three main factors – cost, playability, and safety. Although the upfront cost is significant, it is the cost savings over time that needs to be considered. Another major benefit is the opportunity to turn a field into a multi-purpose facility. No longer just a football field, the facility can now host a multitude of sports and non-sporting events. We know of several facilities that have paid off their field by hosting concerts and championship games. The investment is large, but the key word is just that – “investment”. With the proper plan, the field can turn into an asset for the athletic program and even become a revenue generator.
Jim Dobmeier of A-Turf: There are a number of factors contributing to the trend toward synthetic turf over natural grass. One of the primary reasons high schools, colleges and even parks favor synthetic turf is the growth of the athletics programs and the need to have a multi-sport playing field capable of handling continual use without fear of damage. Coaches and athletes want to play on a surface that is perfectly uniform regardless of the amount it’s used or the weather conditions. Weather is another big factor. Synthetic fields drain very well, so you don’t get the puddling and the footing remains outstanding.
What are some of the advantages of synthetic turf compared to natural grass?
Dobmeier: In the perfect environment, natural grass would be the ideal surface. The problem is there are very few areas that can deliver a perfect environment. Even if such an environment did exist, it would require an extensive amount of time, energy and dollars to maintain it. Couple the adverse weather conditions with heavy usage and the natural grass surface is no longer in good, safe playing condition for the athletes.
Synthetic grass fields are built to withstand year-round, daily activity. For many schools, a single field is used as home turf for football, soccer, field hockey, lacrosse, baseball, softball and marching band. Synthetic grass surfaces deliver consistent playability and equally important, superior durability.
Another advantage of synthetic turf over natural grass is safety. By using specialized rubber and sand or all-rubber infill allows for greater shock absorption – meaning less impact on the athlete.
Synthetic grass fields have several green benefits too. The rubber infill and optional ShockPad are made from shredded and clean scrap tire, making the system eligible for LEED® credits. Synthetic grass never needs to be watered, fertilized or mowed – all negative impacts on the environment.
Fields: Synthetic turf fields provide consistent and good flat surfaces to play on, whereas grass fields have divots and develop ruts. In terms of safety, in a head-to-head comparison, FieldTurf outperformed natural grass in several major categories. In particular, we saw a 66% reduction in neural injuries, a 50% reduction in cranial/cervical injuries, and a 33% reduction in third-degree injuries. Coaches are seeing a greater level of intensity of performance on synthetic turf. They tell us they’re seeing kids lay out for balls on our turf that they wouldn’t dream of doing on a bad grass field.
What advice would you give a coach or administrator who wants to begin the process of acquiring a new synthetic turf field at their school?
Dobmeier: A synthetic grass system is a big investment, so it’s critical that the decision-makers ask the right questions not only about the system and the type of components going into the system, but also about the company building and installing the field.
The best advise I can give to a school or park district is to compare products and companies and ask questions. If you ask the right questions – about the company, the warranty offered and the quality and volume of material components being used – chances are you will make the right decision. And, don’t forget to ask for and use the references – hearing from past consumers is crucial to understanding what you can expect.
Fields: Once you have decided that a new field is needed and you’ve made the move to low maintenance, high performance, artificial turf, get your team working together. Don’t wait for the sale to be completed to start the lengthy process of securing funds for the project. Speak to your representative to discuss timing so your board and decision makers can prepare a financially sound game plan. Talk to your turf company about leasing and financing options which may be a smart alternative. The key to the entire process is partnering up with the right suppliers.
If a school district is cutting back on spending, what factors can justify synthetic turf as a cost-effective alternative to natural grass?
Fields: It all comes back to the long term cost benefit of artificial turf which can be realized by looking at the “cost-per-use”. Because natural grass has less playable hours, the cost per use is much higher. On average, a cost per use for a facility is $15/hour for synthetic turf and $45/hour for natural grass. Synthetic turf is playable virtually 24/7. A natural grass field simply is not. The field can also be used no matter what the weather conditions. In snow, a field can be plowed. In rain, a turf field drains as fast as the subbase beneath.
Dobmeier: There’s no question – investing in a synthetic grass field is a big decision. But, knowing that the dollars spent on one field can benefit an entire athletic program goes a long way in the decision-making process. Synthetic turf fields can be used infinitely more than a natural grass field – one field can serve as home turf for multiple sports in the same season.
The average life span of a synthetic turf field is 12 to 15 years. So when schools calculate the savings in maintenance – manpower, mowing, watering and fertilizing – the value adds up. And knowing you’ll have a field that is always in perfect playing condition – now that’s priceless.
What does your company do to ensure the safety of your synthetic turf products?
Dobmeier: We go to great lengths to make sure the product components we buy and build into our fields are safe – especially knowing children are the end-user. A-Turf takes concerns about safety very seriously. Because not only are we field builders, we are also parents, who stand along the sidelines as our children compete – often on synthetic turf fields.
As a member of the Synthetic Turf Council, we take every precaution to use only materials that are tested and proven. Throughout the years, the synthetic turf industry has developed and tested new pigment formulations to enable the removal of lead. Any lead chromate, which has been used to extend the life of paint color in nylon, polyethylene and polypropylene, is encapsulated in plastic to prevent it from leaching out and being absorbed by the body, or released into the environment.
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