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Renaissance High School

By Charles Upchurch

The trend toward investing in long-lasting and durable athletic turf systems that are safe, cost-efficient and environmentally beneficial continues to grow among high schools around the country. Like many private schools, public school systems are discovering that high-use, multisport fields can provide long-term benefits not only to the students but also the entire community. In Detroit, funding from a municipal bond and a community grant from the National Football League helped Renaissance High School acquire a synthetic turf field just like the pros.

In January the NFL Grassroots Program, the NFL Youth Football Fund and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), together with representatives from the Detroit Public Schools and Detroit Lions, celebrated the dedication of the new, state-of-the-art football field at Renaissance High School. General Sports Turf (GST), based in nearby Rochester, Mich., provided and installed the GameDay Grass XPe6 turf field, one of 32 fields the company has designed and built at 27 schools across the state, from high schools to NCAA Division I universities.

The dedication of the new Renaissance field was held during the week of the Super Bowl in Detroit to highlight the involvement of the NFL. To complete the installation in time for the Jan. 30 ribbon cutting, planners put the project on an accelerated, fast-track schedule. Working at least 12 hours each day (and into the winter evenings under the stadium lights) with no days off, the crew finished the job in 12 days, ahead of schedule and on budget. In addition, the specific turf used for the project was upgraded at no extra cost.

"We bid on this project in 2003 and recommended the best turf product available at the time," says Charlie Cook, senior vice president of construction services for GST. "Since that time, technology had advanced, and we were able to upgrade the turf to our GameDay Grass XPe6, one of the best synthetic turf products available."

GameDay Grass is an all-rubber "infill" turf product using a specially developed fiber designed for multiple sports and year-round use. In Michigan, 84 percent of the synthetic turf fields are filled with rubber only.

High schools, colleges and municipalities are paying attention to research indicating that all-rubber infill systems are preferred over systems that mix rubber with other materials, such as sand. FIFA, soccer's worldwide governing body, has awarded its highest rating to systems featuring an infill absent of a sand material.

"All-rubber infill systems are the wave of the future for synthetic turf fields," GST Vice President Rich Jordan says. "We're very excited to provide this new technology to the Detroit Public School system, as well as to all the schools across Michigan and the rest of the country that we've worked with."

The Renaissance High School field was funded in part by a $200,000 National Football League Grassroots Program grant. The grant, awarded by the Detroit Lions, NFL, NFL Players Association (NFLPA) and administered by LISC (one of the nation's leading community development support organizations), is part of $2.5 million in field refurbishment awards allocated in 2004 to community groups in 16 cities nationwide. The Renaissance project also was funded through a voter-supported municipal bond initiative in Detroit.

GST has installed two of the three new synthetic fields in the Detroit Public School system. In 2003 the company installed a new field at Martin Luther King High School. The new field at Renaissance will serve thousands of students in the community. As part of the school's new $15 million campus, the field, track and stadium will be home to the Renaissance football team and will host community football and other recreational programs organized by Think Detroit Police Athletic League, which has been involved in local youth programming since 1969.

The NFL Grassroots Program is funded by the NFL Youth Football Fund, a $150 million nonprofit foundation established by the NFL and NFLPA to support youth football. Since 1998 the NFL Grassroots Program has provided more than $15.2 million to help community organizations build, or rebuild, 135 youth fields in more than 40 cities, typically in neighborhoods where funding sources are few and far between.

"These play fields represent critical building blocks in the structure of every community," says Anika Goss-Foster, Detroit LISC's senior program director. "They become centers for community activity and give children a place to play and learn. No neighborhood is complete without them."

GST, which works with clients throughout the United States, is particularly proud of the work it has done in its home territory.

"Our base here in the Detroit area has allowed us to work with cities and schools that badly needed new or upgraded athletic facilities to remain competitive and enhance the quality of life in the community," Jordan says. "In markets all across the country, we're finding sports administrators that are aware and excited about the benefits of infill synthetic turf."

Infill turf systems use a combination of densely massed polyethylene fibers, infilled with a base material such as granulated rubber, which settles among the fibers to simulate a naturally forgiving soil surface. The rubber infill material is made from recycled automobile tires. GST, for example, works with Ford Motor Company Company's Environmental Program. The field at Renaissance High School used 252,211 pounds of rubber, keeping 12,610 tires from ending up in landfills.

Cutting-edge turf products also include sophisticated drainage systems, designed to redistribute as much as 14 inches of rain per hour. There is no need for fertilizers or pesticides that can seep into the water table or gasoline-powered mowers to maintain the field. These fields require minimal maintenance and provide schools or communities with a playing surface that can be used all day, every day, incurring very little visible wear. All-rubber systems can sustain less fiber erosion over time and provide consistent performance under varying weather conditions.

GST is currently working on the next generation of synthetic turf systems in partnership with Michigan State University, harvesting data from biomechanical performance testing related to state-of-the-art, infilled athletic surfaces. The results, expected to be available later this year, will help guide development of both general and sports-specific synthetic turf products.

Meanwhile, students at Renaissance and Martin Luther King High Schools in Detroit are able to enjoy athletic fields that are Super Bowl-worthy.


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