Facility Profile - January 2006
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Synthetic Turf and All That Jazz

Silver Spring Jazz Festival
Silver Spring, Md.

By Gregory T. Dubose

With its second annual jazz festival fast approaching, the bustling town of Silver Spring, located in Montgomery County, Md., could've been stuck singing the blues because its 35,000-square-foot outdoor concert space was not yet a viable venue.

"The County was looking at every option to utilize vacant space created by the demolition of a downtown Silver Spring parking garage," explains Don Scheuerman, Montgomery County chief engineer.

The parking garage was demolished as part of a redevelopment project that eventually will bring a 43,000-square-foot civic plaza to the same site. The civic building will host festivals, special events, exhibits and outdoor events. The County, however, needed to expeditiously create a venue that would support this past September's Silver Spring Jazz Festival. The space needed to be conducive to a festival atmosphere and also needed to work within the budget and tight time frame. Although grading of the site was completed in July, events already were scheduled to take place later in the summer, including Movies Under the Stars and the jazz festival.

As the County reviewed its options to surface the area within the vacant lot, concrete was a consideration. However, it was decided that concrete was too hot, too expensive, and did not provide a natural nor inviting look and feel for event attendees. The concrete option also greatly increased the cost of the civic plaza's construction, due to the four inches of asphalt and sub-base that would require removal prior to hardscaping of the civic plaza and the encompassed ice rink facility.

Likewise, Montgomery County entertained the idea of seeding and sodding the area but found the required three inches of top soil, water and subsequent removal to be cost-prohibitive. Only after these options were exhausted did the County begin to research the idea of a synthetic grass surface. Its research uncovered that a synthetic grass surface is installed over compacted earth and does not require subsequent earthwork for removal. Once synthetic turf is removed, the sub-grade is suitable for hardscaping. As a result of these findings, the County decided to use synthetic turf and set about seeking a qualified company to complete the project. Although the decision was made to use synthetic turf, there still were some within the County's administration who questioned a synthetic surface, a solution with which they had no familiarity.

After an exhaustive search, Synthetic Turf International (STI), a supplier of premium synthetic surfaces based in Jupiter, Fla., was selected to facilitate the project.

With budget being an issue, STI worked to value engineer the project within the County's parameters.

"STI was a great match for us—everything just seemed to come together," Scheuerman says. "STI completed the installation on time. Utilizing STI and their Poly 100 turf does not create additional work when the time comes to move ahead with construction of the civic plaza."

He also adds that watching the process of STI putting down the turf, spreading infill, brushing it and rolling it was a bit "unnerving" for County engineers. However, the finished product left the very same engineers all saying "oh, my goodness."

"STI told the County what they were going to do, and they did it," he says. "What surprised us is they finished the project early. STI and their synthetic turf beat anything else we could have done. We got aesthetic value, and we got durability."

The grass offers a soft, natural feel, yet it's tough enough to withstand the heavy of foot traffic of festival-goers.

The Silver Spring Jazz Festival was a big success with an estimated 15,000 people in attendance. High-school jazz bands and several world-renowned jazz artists, including Wynton Marsalis, performed on stage and on the synthetic lawn. Marsalis, a New Orleans native, and County Executive Doug Duncan spearheaded an effort to gather donations for Hurricane Katrina relief in which an estimated $22,000 was collected, according to American Red Cross staff.

Now that the jazz festival has concluded, the synthetic turf surface continues to benefit the community. The site is serving as a makeshift park for ultimate frisbee, touch football games and general lounging. The synthetic surface is not lost on visitors. Many members of the Silver Spring community already have expressed a desire to see more public spaces surfaced with synthetic turf. What began as an uncertain quest for a workable solution has culminated in a winning score for Montgomery County.


Silver Spring Jazz Festival:

Synthetic Turf International: