Facility Profile - May 2021
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A Sustainable Fix
>> Emory Folmar YMCA Soccer Complex // Montgomery, Ala.

By Galen Thackston, P.E.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, almost 300 million tires in the United States are discarded each year. Did you ever wonder where all of those old tires end up? Historically, scrap tires took up space in landfills, were stockpiled or illegally dumped. Fortunately, as a result of both recycling and beneficial re-use, markets now exist for more than 80% of scrap tires.

The Emory Folmar YMCA Soccer Complex in Montgomery, Ala., is an excellent example of how state-funded scrap tire recycling programs can benefit the community. One of Alabama's most celebrated athletic facilities, the complex offers eight lighted regulation soccer fields, two championship stadium fields with seating for 4,000 spectators, a press box, a concession facility and a restroom area. In addition, an indoor facility offers year-round, all-weather recreational play. Over the years, the complex has played host to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Men's Soccer National Championship, Southern States Athletic Conference Championship, Alabama State Soccer Association Final Four and the Governor's Cup, among others.

Unfortunately, heavy foot traffic around the player benches made it nearly impossible for grass to grow, and during inclement weather, the area became a pool of mud. To solve this issue, the YMCA turned to engineers with Goodwyn Mills Cawood (GMC) who recommended leveraging an innovative statewide scrap tire recycling program to provide a solution that would be safe for players, porous and durable, and most importantly, cost-effective.

The Alabama Scrap Tire Environmental Act

In 2004, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) launched its Scrap Tire Program, designed to comprehensively regulate scrap tire accumulations and provide for cleanup and remediation of illegal scrap tire piles. By placing a $1 per tire fee on all replacement tires sold, a fund was established to support remediation of scrap tire sites and disposal and reuse of scrap tires. Scrap tire material can be repurposed to serve as an alternative to traditional materials used for energy, manufacturing and engineering projects.

In the YMCA's case, the recycled material would be used to provide rubber padding around and between each of the player benches, alleviating the issues they were experiencing with these areas and creating a more aesthetically pleasing and sustainable facility.

Overcoming Challenges

The Emory Folmar Soccer Complex and Scrap Tire Program seemed to be a perfect fit. But before the project could move forward, the project team had to get the solution in front of the facility's decision-makers, which included YMCA administrators, the City of Montgomery (which owned the complex), and the Parks and Recreation Department. While many partners were willing from the start, the unique nature of the project presented its share of challenges.

A primary issue involved safety concerns. The project team had to prove that children could safely play on the surface. The project team went to other facilities where the material had been used, including a walking trail that was constructed at ADEM using the same funding source.

In addition, alternative tire surfacing is not inexpensive. Early cost projections came in at $100,000 for the project. The project team worked with YMCA officials to submit a grant for funding the project to ADEM. Since the grant cycles only come around once a year, they had to wait their turn. Eventually, the project received $75,000 in funding as part of a multimillion dollar grant.