‘FieldTurf’ coming to Sonoma’s parks, school playing fields
Artificial field turf is spreading like crabgrass at Sonoma Valley schools.
Currently approval is expected for the installation of a new “FieldTurf” at Altimira Middle School, a turf field is already in use at Adele Harrison Middle School, and a projected soccer-and-football field is planned for Sonoma Valley High School.
Add to those the 4.5 acres of artificial baseball and soccer fields included in the updated Maxwell Farms Regional Park master plan, and it might seem to some that Sonoma Valley is moving toward an artificial turf future – and leaving natural grass playing fields behind.
Artificial sports turf is over 50 years old, dating from the first high-profile installation at the Houston Astrodome in 1966. Though its original name was ChemGrass, it soon became widely known and branded as AstroTurf.
AstroTurf’s chief competitor is FieldTurf, a tall-pile (think tall grass rather than short) polyethylene turf which is said to mimic natural grass better than AstroTurf. It’s FieldTurf that Sonoma Valley schools and Regional Parks favor – often referred to just as “turf” as opposed to grass.
“We found that turf fields offer some notable advantages over grass fields,” said Bert Whitaker, director of Sonoma County Regional Parks. “First, they extend the length of the playing season because they don’t have to heal after use, like grass fields do, and their all-weather surface means play can continue through the rainy season.”
Whitaker, who said support for the turf fields came from “community input” during the master plan update process, also noted that there’s a cost advantage to artificial turf, “because synthetic fields don’t require irrigation, mowing or the use of fertilizer or herbicides, they’re less expensive to maintain and their maintenance creates fewer environmental impacts.”
The embrace of artificial turf did not go unremarked on Facebook by groups such as Friends of Maxwell Park. “So many reasons why the county parks want to do this, but I am still heartbroken after trying to voice the value of natural areas here for walking and playing for so long,” posted area resident, and open space advocate, Teri Shore after the Master Plan was adopted. “I thought I could let it go, but I cannot. I will say goodbye to the Maxwell Park I know and love.”
Cost and ease of maintenance are two big advantages for the school district, associate superintendent Bruce Abbott said, pointing out that while annual maintenance costs are low, artificial turf fields have a limited lifespan: “We do know there is a long-term expense, even though the annual maintenance cost are very low, after 10 years or so we will have to replace the ‘carpet.’ We will build that cost into our deferred maintenance plan.”
Abbott broke down the installation and maintenance costs of natural grass vs. synthetic turf in a side-by-side comparison. Of interest is that, while the replacement cost of synthetic turf is higher than natural grass, the maintenance cost is significantly lower for turf year-by-year.
The biggest advantage of synthetic turf comes in usage: because of its advantages in drainage and recovery, a turf field is usable almost all year around, while a natural grass field is more likely to be unplayable due to flooding.
“Personally I prefer the grass but I do all the maintenance and it is impossible to get the (softball fields) ready with the rain,” said coach Mike Fanucchi, who has experienced a very frustrating softball season so far due to unplayable field conditions. “I would go to turf if given the option.”