Feature Article - February 2009
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Field Goals

Maintaining Sports Fields & Grounds

By Emily Tipping

Some Maintenance Required

And in fact, that is exactly why so many communities do choose to go with synthetics: to maximize playing time on the field and to minimize maintenance. But while synthetic may often be billed as maintenance-free, and while the everyday maintenance and pregame requirements are definitely less than those required for natural turf, the fact is that some maintenance is still needed.

Synthetic turf requires periodic replacement of infill, occasional seam repair, removal of weeds and debris and so forth. That said, the maintenance requirements are much lower than natural turf.

At Albemarle County Public Schools' Monticello High School in Charlottesville, Va., just the high school teams currently use the school's football fields, but the school is making a switch to synthetic turf this spring. They cite the usual reasons—getting more use out of the field—but maintenance is also a factor. According to Athletic Director Fitzgerald Barnes, once the switch is made, maintenance costs are expected to drop from $35,000 to $5,500 annually.

Anderson at Hempfield School District agreed that maintenance is different for synthetic turf. "The time that's needed to get a field ready for a game is minimal with the synthetic, whereas with the natural there's mowing involved, lining involved and other things you need to do," he said.

"In addition," he added, "in overall maintenance on the synthetic of course you don't have to mow, fertilize or spray, and you don't have to be concerned about the wear and tear."

However, he warned against assuming that all of the reduced requirements mean that synthetic turf is maintenance-free.

"You do have to groom it periodically," he said, adding that in season that's every two weeks and out of season, it's once a month. "And there seems to be more trash pickup that has to occur on synthetic." Spills are also more of a concern on synthetic, he added.

To these tasks, the Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA) adds in its "A Guide to Synthetic and Natural Turf Grass for Sports Fields" (2nd edition), that while you should ask the manufacturer of your synthetic turf field for the recommended maintenance practices for your specific field, typical tasks include sweeping, dragging, loosening and redistributing of infill and cleaning, which may require special solvents and cleansers. (For more information on maintaining both types of fields and estimates of the various costs involved, check out www.stma.org.)

What About Lead?

The debate on lead content in synthetic turf fields continues to rage. It began when two fields were closed in New Jersey in 2008 after the New Jersey Department of Health found high levels of lead in the nylon-fiber artificial turf.

After this, communities across the country began to do their own investigations, as well as the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which concluded that synthetic turf, including the nylon variety brought into question, does not pose a risk to human health under any reasonable circumstance.