The Parks and Recreation Department plans to switch soccer and adjoining T-ball fields at Mountain Valley Park to artificial turf to save money on watering, other maintenance and labor.
The town will save $20,000 to $30,000 a year at the park in water, fertilizers and herbicides, Parks and Recreation Director Brian Witty said. He said the turf will be applied to a junior soccer field (100,000 square feet) and four T-ball fields (40,000 square feet).
The park project gained approval from the Town Council, which voted unanimously Nov. 19 to accept a bid for about $1.4 million from Low Mountain Construction Inc. of Phoenix to install the turf as well as lighting at the park, located off Robert Road and Nace Lane. The town budgeted $1.5 million for improvements at the park during the current fiscal year, and will pay for the project from impact fees collected from residential developers.
Town staff conducted a pre-construction meeting Tuesday with Low Mountain officials and gave them a copy of the contract to sign, Utilities Director Neil Wadsworth said.
Low Mountain plans to begin work during the week of Dec. 8 and "shoot for" completion by mid-March, company Vice President Art Case said.
Case, Wadsworth, Witty and others cited numerous pluses to using artificial turf - and virtually no minuses. Academy Sports Turf of Englewood, Colo., will supply the turf to Low Mountain, and it comes with a third-party eight-year warranty.
"Our obvious benefits are water and maintenance (and) costs for painting (stripes)," said Maury Ruble, athletic director for Bradshaw Mountain High School in Prescott Valley. The Humboldt Unified School District in May replaced grass with artificial turf on the soccer, baseball, football and track fields at the campus.
Ruble said it costs about $100 to stripe a football field per game. By contrast, the artificial turf contains white, yellow and black fibers that are sewn into the turf, "so they never require painting."
Artificial turf requires the use of a sweeper hooked to the back of a tractor every couple of months to redistribute the rubber pellets in the fibers, Ruble said.
Ruble said high schools in Arizona lack the money to retain fields with natural grass.
"Every year in the spring you should be spraying fertilizer, you should be aerating," he said. "We spent probably $30,000 a year on it, and it is still in poor condition. That is just (for) the football field."
Ruble and others discussed one possible drawback: more injuries. He said he conducted research beforehand that indicated "possibly a slight increase for what we call a 'one-day injury,' such as an injured toe or sprained muscle."
Those injuries have increased because, he said, "you may extend a muscle more than on a compact ground surface," Ruble explained.
However, he said research also indicates injuries "drop significantly" all season long, adding, "This year we did not suffer a single turf-related injury - no concussions, no torn ligaments."
Ruble also acknowledged using natural turf can trigger more injuries when the grass becomes hard and compacted during cold weather.
Artificial turf could reduce ankle and knee injuries, said Town Manager Larry Tarkowski, who has refereed soccer games. He indicated the "very consistent surface and the integration of crumb rubber on the surface" could lessen injuries on fields with artificial turf.
Another potential concern involving artificial turf is exposing children to lead particles. The Center for Environmental Health in Oakland, Calif., in 2008 filed a lawsuit against certain manufacturers.
The watchdog group tested more than 50 samples of synthetic turf and found that one-third of the samples contained lead that exceeded California's upper limit of 0.5 micrograms per day of lead exposure.
However, Paul Kelley, chief financial officer of Academy Sport Turf, said the percentage of lead content is "negligible."
He supplied a press release from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission dated July 30, 2008, announcing commission staff concluded young children "are not a risk for exposure to lead in these fields."
Tarkowski said he didn't know about potential health problems from lead, adding, "We would go after the company if there is something wrong with (the turf)."
And while the warranty covers the turf for eight years, it can last as long as 12 years, depending on use of the fields, Kelley said.
It's necessary to reseed natural turf fields once and possibly twice a year, Witty said. The town uses a combination of ryegrass and bluegrass.
Grass can die from numerous causes, and cleats damage grass, Witty said. He added natural fields also require rebuilding "totally from the ground up" every five to 10 years.
Reconstruction involves re-applying the irrigation system, adding soil and determining whether to reseed the field, he said.
Witty said the contractor will use permanent striping for the soccer field at Mountain Valley Park, adding the town may use it for other sports. The T-ball fields also will receive permanent striping.
The use of artificial turf also will allow "unlimited play," Tarkowski said.
Tarkowski explained the town may use impact fees for parks and recreation for adding capacity to an existing regional park, such as Mountain Valley. He added lighting will allow for nighttime play.
Impact fees for parks and recreation are $1,716 per single-family home and $1,078 for multifamily dwellings (such as apartments), Management Services Director Bill Kauppi said. He added the town has banked more than $2 million in the account for impact fees for parks and recreation.