Supplement Feature - September 2011
Find a printable version here

Tomorrow's Turf

Budgets and the Environment Drive Trends in Natural and Synthetic Sports Fields

By Julie Knudson

The issue is especially difficult for municipalities that must weigh the cost of a new synthetic field against hardships in maintaining budgets for services such as police officers, teachers and road repairs. And while playability may go up and maintenance may come down with the installation of a synthetic field, even long-term dollars continue to be a concern. "The problem is where are they going to come up with the money to put in the turf field, and then generate some kind of capital replacement fund for 10 or 12 years down the line," Novak said.

Safety is playing its own role in prompting innovations in synthetic surfaces. The risk of concussions is gaining attention in the NFL and across all levels of sport, said Novak. He's in favor of padding or other resilient underlayment under the field to help soften the blow when players go down, because, "[Y]ou're going to want a pad there to help absorb some of that impact. And the good thing about pads is that you don't feel them when you're walking around on the surface but when you do fall, you're not going to be as sore in the morning."

Paul Brown Stadium's synthetic field is nearing the end of its lifecycle, and Daily is already keeping an eye on what the industry has to offer for his next field. "What I'm starting to see now is that companies are starting to look at two different changes," he said, "one being the fiber itself. Monofilament seemed to be the rage about three or four years ago, and there seems to be a lot of issues that have come up just with infield displacement." He sees new generations of turf incorporating a combination of monofilament and slit film material to limit movement, along with infill advancements that replace traditional rubber-sand mixtures with rubber- or acrylic-coated sand to improve footing while simultaneously helping with heat reduction. "Also I've heard people playing around with ground-up coconut shells, kind of that green-type industry looking at different forms of infill."

Daily will need to carefully consider disposal costs and options when planning his replacement project. He estimated it could cost anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 to dispose of their current field, and cited the possibility that landfills may one day stop accepting turf material altogether, saying, "Who knows in another eight years whether we'll even be able to get rid of our fields?"

Recyclability continues to be a major focus for synthetic turf manufacturers. "The industry is looking, as is the Synthetic Turf Council, to establish guidelines or guidance for the reuse, repurposing [and] disposal of synthetic turf once it's reached the end of its useful life that does not involve sending it to the landfill," said STC President Rick Doyle. "Already some companies, though they haven't announced [yet], are pelletizing these fields and then using those pellets to make landscape ties and all sorts of different products."