The Trojans' War
Iowa City West High School in Iowa City, Iowa
Unlike fine wine, the grass field at Iowa City West High School in Iowa City, Iowa, home of the Trojans and Women of Troy, did not get better with age. Built in 1991, the 22-year-old field had a variety of issues when Iowa City West Athletic Director Scott Kibby began advocating for a new field in 2013.
"It got to the point where it would plateau on the top and in the middle, and then sloped on the side," Kibby said. "It would also capture water on top, and the drainage system underneath had become obsolete."
Complicating Kibby's efforts further was the field's lack of usability due to the pounding it would take in an average season by the Trojans football team. "After a dozen games, it was trashed," admitted Kibby. "We had the entire thing roped off during track season. We didn't use it at all for soccer, and our marching band never practiced on it."
According to Kibby, the district examined what it would cost to tear out all of the irrigation, strip all the grass, move some dirt around and potentially make it a new grass field once again. But Kibby and his principal had other ideas; specifically, to replace the field with a synthetic turf surface. Iowa City West's sister school utilizes a synthetic turf surface for its soccer field that is also used by its football team when weather-related issues move practices from its grass competition field to the soccer field.
Kibby knew he wanted a surface like the one being utilized at the sister school, but different. And when it was time to move forward with the selection process, he turned to a trusted expert.
Jon Fitch, a civil engineer with Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based Shive Hattery, an architectural and engineering firm, has been a fixture in the Iowa interscholastic community, working with high schools, as well as nearby University of Iowa, on their athletic fields for many years. Fitch's history with Kibby dates back to Kibby's days in Cedar Rapids, when they worked together on a synthetic turf field installation. "Shive Hattery has a long history of working with the Iowa City School District, and I had worked with Iowa City West previously on a natural grass soccer field, so when it was time to do a synthetic field, we were contacted," Fitch said.
For Fitch, the first step in the selection process was determining what kind of activities were going to be played on this field. Kibby had one specific requirement in mind: "We were looking at a softer surface than our sister school," he said. "We were playing a collision sport in football and weren't worried about how a soccer ball was going to roll. We were most interested in terms of concussions and athlete safety."
After narrowing down the selection process to four vendors with competitive price bids, Fitch relied on his own experience and expertise, as well as the input of respected industry veterans, to make the final selection. "I wanted to make sure that we went with someone that was reputable and had a strong financial backing," Fitch said.
Also influencing his decision was a meeting with Darian Daily at a conference. Daily, the head sports field manager at Paul Brown Stadium, home of the Cincinnati Bengals, extolled the virtues of the Bengals' synthetic turf partner, UBU Sports. After Iowa City West decision-makers talked with contractors about the Downers Grove, Ill.-based company, the decision was made. "They did go look at competitor fields, but they felt more comfortable with UBU Sports," Fitch added.
The new field was installed in the summer of 2014, and the response has been extremely positive. "The field is gorgeous," Kibby said. "I got it exactly the way I wanted it—every little detail. It is a softer, fuller surface that plays faster than our grass field, and the community is overwhelmingly excited about it."
"It's just a different product and a different system," Fitch agreed. "It is a softer field, the Gmax is lower, and it does look fuller because of the fiber and how it was designed. It's just a very crisp, natural look."
In addition to football, Iowa City West is using the field for marching band, soccer and physical education classes. "My baseball and softball coaches even love it," Kibby said. "When it's raining outside and they can't get on their infield, they'll go take ground balls on it.
"Somebody told me that UBU is in the Superdome, so I say, 'If it's good enough for the Superdome, it's good enough for me,'" Kibby concluded.