Schools Favor Moving Ahead with Turf Fields and Lights

by Joan R. Simon

(December 5, 2007) After seven years of deliberating on the need for more fields, including several in litigation over a plan that would have moved the Kemper Memorial Park to make room for an extra field, the Mamaroneck School Board unanimously agreed to proceed with a different scheme. “Plan C” would expand capacity by reconfiguring the high school’s Manchester and Memorial Fields and by adding synthetic turf and lights at a cost of $7.1 million (See: Schools Weigh Two Options for Adding Turf Fields.)

The board’s decision, taken at their December 4th study session, followed by only a few days the Village of Larchmont’s approval of a bid to install a turf field at Flint Park. (See: Larchmont Village Board Approves Turf Field.) These back-to-back actions could take the community from zero turf fields today to as many as five such fields within the next two years. However, while Larchmont is set to move rapidly on their project, the schools have a number of steps yet to go before approving a detailed plan and figuring out how to fund it.

Members of the school board spent the majority of their session addressing the relative merits of grass versus artificial turf, with a focus on cost and safety issues that have recently surfaced. Their consultant, William Aniskovich from the WBA group, answered many of the questions raised at an earlier meeting in November. (See: Mam'k Schools Considering $7M+ Synthetic Turf Plan.)

Grass v Turf : What Do They Cost, How Much Can They Be Used?

William Aniskovich, the board's field consultant, answered a series of questions about different field options and costs.
Mr. Aniskovich was first asked to compare the cost of grass with artificial turf, using the Plan C renovations at Manchester Field as an example. The cost of turf would be $2.8 million v. $2.3 million for grass. It was pointed out that adding lights, at a cost of $450,000, might not be worthwhile on a grass field. “You wouldn’t get the same advantage on grass,” said Mr. Aniskovich. Lights might allow you to “finish games after dark,” noted Trustee Michael Jacobson, but grass fields couldn’t sustain the wear from additional night games.

Installing turf would keep an area out of play for either a fall or spring season, said Mr. Aniskovich, but laying a new grass field would take about a year and a half, the extra time being needed for the grass to grow in and become established.

Trustee Linnet Tse, who heads the board's subcommittee on fields, provided an analysis of the relative costs of grass and turf over a twenty year span (using the chart below). Despite lower installation expenses for grass, she estimated a natural field would cost about double per day of use, because with turf and lights a field can be in service three times as often. Applying standards from a McGill University analysis, Ms. Tse gave 25 hours a week or 3 ½ hours a day as the maximum playing time for grass fields. “You could use it more, but you’d be shortening the life of the field,” commented Mr. Aniskovich.

Grass v Artifical Turf Costs

Mr. Jacobson said that students could “start playing on turf earlier” in the spring and later in the fall. Currently, pre-season baseball tryouts have to be done indoors because cold natural fields “are like concrete,” he noted. There is also the problem of waiting a minimum of one or two days after a rainfall before grass fields can be used, which is not a factor with turf.

The biggest problem on grass, Mr. Aniskovich said, was the “compression of the middle of the field and the pooling of water” when it rains. “That doesn’t happen with turf.” Proper maintenance would involve regrading a grass field every few years, he explained.

MHS Memorial Field

"A picture is worth a thousand words,” said Jim Hanley, president of Fields for Kids, who used this photograph of Memorial Field to show the compression and puddling that occurs in the center of grass fields.

Some Choice in Synthetic Products

Mr. Aniskovich said 62 companies are selling artificial turf and he has used 12 of them for his clients. “They are basically the same,” he said, but they use somewhat different materials: synthetic rubber, virgin rubber, or a combination of sand and synthetic rubber. Virgin rubber breaks down faster than synthetic rubber, which can be vacuumed up and reused, he said. None of the all-synthetic turf fields Mr. Aniskovich has installed over the past 8 years has required replacement yet. He did not recommend the rubber/sand mix, because "the sand migrates to the bottom and creates that hard surface again” similar to a grass field.

He also did not recommend synthetic turf in combination with natural grass, which is offered by Desso. “It doesn’t offer you much of a benefit,” he said, because you still need to water and cut the grass and use growth enhancing chemicals that can have an adverse effect on the synthetic material. “I personally don’t feel it’s a viable option.”

Mondo, a high end track company, has a new turf material, Ecofill, that is bio-degradable and eco-friendly. But it has been on the market for only 1-2 years and “doesn’t have a track record,” said Mr. Aniskovich, who thought it would be “very difficult to try to evaluate how good it is.” Ecofill costs approximately three times as much as synthetic turf made from ground tires, although the infill is only a portion of the overall cost of installing a turf field.

Because of health concerns involving the overheating of the rubber material, Mr. Aniskovich was asked about using a light color rubber crumb. Rubber infill does come in different colors, he said, but because it is only “color-coated” this “will eventually wear off and you’ll have black again.”

The next issue raised was the migration of the rubber particles, which could potentially leach harmful metals into the groundwater. “[Migration] does happen if you get a heavy rainfall,” Mr. Aniskovich said. He recommended installing wire basins in trench drains surrounding the field to collect the rubber particles. He mentioned various filtration systems that he had installed in Bronxville and Blind Brook and another at the New York Athletic Club in Pelham Manor, which is located directly on the Long Island Sound.

He explained that any plan must be submitted to the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) along with tests that show “pre run-off and post run-off” to be the same. “The amount of water leaving the site today has to be the same amount” or less after the turf field is installed. He did not as yet have an answer concerning a filter system for zinc, one of the potentially harmful metals in crumb rubber.

More Turf at Central Field and at Murray & Chatsworth Playgrounds?

The discussion moved on to the field at Central School, which Mr. Aniskovich said had been incorrectly installed, with a subsurface appropriate for a golf green, where it would get constant maintenance and watering, but not at a school. He recommended some kind of a synthetic surface for the field, given its high usage, and that renovation has been estimated to add an additional $680,000 on top of the $7.1 million for the high school fields

The school district is also planning to change the surfaces under the play equipment and in the open areas at Chatsworth and Murray. Mr. Aniskovich suggested a partial plan for $976,000 and a complete one for $1.23 million at Chatsworth; similar options would be $612,000 and $922,000 at Murray. Under consideration are rubberized tracks at the two schools with a different artificial surface for inside the tracks and under the play equipment. Engineering specifications still have to be developed and Mr. Aniskovich plans to talk with user groups at each school to determine specific needs before finalizing proposals for the projects.

The Audience Responds

The turnout was smaller for this session than it had been at earlier meetings; around thirty people were in attendance. Most of the comments (and many of the speakers) were the same as those aired last week at the Village of Larchmont meeting.

Concerns were raised over the environmental and health risks inherent in the rubber tire material. Catherine Wachs, who had addressed the board before, suggested looking into shredded cork, a natural substance that might substitute for rubber. She also asked if the board could install a system that would reduce stormwater runoff to levels below the current rate. Michelle Lewis, another repeat speaker, worried that rubber particles would migrate to the Sound and “the rest of the particles are going to go home with us on our shoes and clothes and hair.”

But more of the speakers were concerned about the debilitated and unsafe condition of the current fields and strongly urged the board to go ahead with Plan C. Dr. Holly Schachner, a pediatric endocrinologist, said she had tried to find the scientific data that would prove crumb rubber was carcinogenic, but could not. “Obesity is a bigger problem,” as a result of “inactive children,” she said.

Student athletes from the high school joined several coaches in urging the board to install turf fields. “We have a real disadvantage playing against teams with turf,” one said. “The faster we get [turf fields] here, the better.”

Tricia Miller, the field hockey assistant coach, said the team could no longer play on Memorial Field at the high school because conditions were too dangerous. She regretted “the money that has been spent for us to leave the district to play” on other fields, because of local conditions and shortages. She estimated that 75-80% of the team’s opponents have turf fields, “So we’re always behind.” Longtime football coach Mike Chiapparelli agreed that “our kids are a little deprived.”

Jennifer Conley, the mother of four sports-playing boys, noted the school was planning to spend $3 million to repair parking lots and walkways that are unsafe, and fixing unsafe fields was “at least as important.”

Board Comes to Consensus

In the end, board members remained concerned about health and environmental issues, but unanimously agreed to proceed with the Plan C configuration with the addition of lights and some sort of synthetic turf. Board President Amy Levere summarized, “Plan C is the one plan that gives us what we need.” She said the board would start working on the SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review Act) process, so that the necessary permits would be in place before a possible bond is put before the public, probably in May. The specific infill product to be used has not yet been decided.

Where Will the Board Get the Money?
Sid Ings, president of the Larchmont Junior Soccer League, made an immediate contribution to the fields project and pledged future sums.

Following the board’s determination, Sid Ings announced that the Larchmont Junior Soccer League was donating an immediate $50,000 to the schools and committing an additional $50,000 within the next three years. Ms. Levere gratefully accepted the money, saying, “We would welcome any and all donations.”

Ms. Levere mentioned the $500,000 that was set aside from the 2004-05 budget for fields and said that Assemblyman George Latimer was working to obtain $250,000 from New York State. In addition, Fields for Kids has offered to raise money for the project.

The largest share of the anticipated $7.1 million for the fields is expected to come from the school district issuing a bond, which will probably be connected to the capital improvement plan presented at last week’s study session. (See: School Board Debates $51.1 Million Bond.) Any bond, however, must be approved first by the board and then by the voting public.