Turf wars: School district debates surface of new fields

Parents, kids debate artificial turf vs. natural grass.|

The debate over the type of turf to install on the Sonoma Valley Unified School District’s proposed new athletic complex is still under debate, with supporters of both synthetic and natural turf trying to sway school board members at Tuesday’s meeting on which surface to install.

The public comment period on Tuesday came as the receipt of a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) provided an opportunity for community members to lobby school district board members to choose their preferred field surface.

Bruce Abbott, associate superintendent of the district, said Tuesday that the deadline to file a public comment was extended to Tuesday, Dec. 3 from Nov. 25 due to a loss of time caused by the power outages.

The support for a new athletic complex at Sonoma Valley High is not under debate, it’s something the community has been looking forward to for a while, some said.

“We waited a long time. We don’t want to wait any more,” said Stephanie Jordan, a SVUSD parent and employee. “It’s really tough on students to have every home game away, to have your home team in Petaluma.”

Those who support natural turf argue that synthetic turf is dangerous because it carries toxins, gets hotter than natural turf and is less forgiving, causing injuries. Supporters of artificial turf say it is environmentally friendly because it is made of recycled material, uses less water than natural turf, which is important in a drought-prone state – and using less water saves money.

Sonoma resident Stewart Saunders, a fierce opponent of artificial turf, came armed with three large poster boards describing the dangers of the synthetic material. He offered several arguments against the material including the danger it poses in a fire-prone region, the temperatures the material can reach compared to natural grass, infections related to turf and the germs such as staph and MRSA that he said can harbor in the fibers, and an increased chance and severity of injuries.

“My temperatures showed (artificial turf at Adele Harrison Middle School) was up to 70 degrees hotter. The artificial turf was 157 degrees on a 93 degree day,” Saunders said.

Celeste Winders told the board to take seriously the cautions of staph infections.

“I want to let you know that staph and MRSA is not a trivial thing,” she said. “My daughter got a staph infection from Sonoma Valley High School’s gym floor.”

The infection entered her daughter through a mosquito bite and resulted in months of treatment.

“She was very, very, very ill, and was on massive antibiotics for almost three months to clear up that staph infection,” Winders said.

Five male student athletes on the varsity soccer team showed up to support the athletic fields, three coming to the podium.

“We want a field because we don’t get to play any games at home because we don’t have lights. And we can’t practice past 5 p.m. because the sun will go down,” said one teen who spoke on behalf of the others. “And for all the people who think (artificial) turf is more dangerous to play on, if you play on Arnold (field), that’s way more dangerous to play on because of all the potholes that the football team makes.“

Jason Sutter, a parent of three SVUSD students, referenced the student athletes who were at Tuesday’s meeting.

“The boys just told us what they need. They don’t need a grass field,” Sutter said. “They don’t need something else. They need to play sports in their hometown at their school and be proud about it.”

These and other comments that will be received before the deadline will be included in the final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that is expected sometime in 2020.

A new lighted and striped turf for soccer, football and lacrosse, along with a synthetic running track, are planned for the new outdoor athletic and recreational complex. The two softball fields and baseball diamonds will have natural grass.

Plans include permanent home bleacher seats for 1,000 with an additional 300 relocatable seats for the visiting teams, seats that can be moved to other areas of the complex, and that can expand to up to 2,500 for larger events.

Parking will increase at the new complex to a total of 603, compared to 275 at Arnold Field where football and some soccer games are currently played. Some relocation of current buildings is also part of the plan.

Send comments on the athletic field complex to Bruce Abbott, SVUSD, 17850 Railroad Ave., Sonoma, 95476 or email babbott@sonomaschools.org.

Contact Anne at anne.ernst@sonomanews.com.

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