Artificial Turf vs. Grass Debated at Haddonfield BOE Meeting
Engineers, coaches and parents talk about benefits and burdens of artificial turf.
The Haddonfield Board of Education on Thursday heard an in-depth presentation about the nature, composition and costs of artificial-turf athletic fields.
The turf project has been a lightning rod for objections over a $16.9 million plan for a public purchase of the 18.7-acre Bancroft property adjacent to the high school. Public opinion in three meetings on the purchase in July was generally supportive of the plan, which would acquire the property for current and future school use and to preserve open space.
A sticking point was over the inclusion of funds to resurface the high school football stadium with artificial turf and to construct a new artificial turf field there. Some supporters of the public purchase have said they would not support the initiative if the field component remains in it.
A public referendum on the Bancroft purchase is scheduled in January.
School board President Steve Weinstein said Thursday's meeting was just a discussion. There are hurdles to consider, especially those related to the Bancroft project, which is in the early stages of formation, he said.
“If the bond measure goes forward—if, if, if and so on. We don’t have all those answers right now, which is why we’re having this discussion,” he said.
High school Athletic Director Lefteris Banos provided a color-coded schedule of the where, when and how students use all the various grass sports fields in Haddonfield. Rain, mud, sinkholes, tree roots and just the overwhelming number of Haddonfield students participating in athletics were some of the factors he cited in favor of turf.
“Haddonfield is a Group 2 school, but has about the number of student athletes that a Group 4 school has,” Banos said. The schedules he showed gave a snapshot of current problems in having enough available field space. In the spring, for instance, the Haddonfield lacrosse team can’t start practice on the high school field until 7 p.m. Practice then goes until 9 p.m.
Grass fields, Banos added, aren’t grass after a rainy day, or after football practice. "They’re dirt."
Other coaches cited the number of injuries and ailments students get from playing on grass. Frank DeLano, teacher and football coach, said one area of the football field is so bad, they don’t run plays in that section.
Doug Hopper and Frank Seney, of Remington & Vernick Engineers, opened with a PowerPoint presentation addressing everything from the type of materials used in turf fields to balancing maintenance costs of turf as opposed to grass fields and a consideration of environmental and safety issues.
Hopper noted the widespread and accepted use of turf fields across the country. Turf isn’t just for professional sports teams anymore, nor has it been for some time. Haddonfield, according to some school officials, is behind the curve on this issue.
“Haddonfield should not have the ‘worst’ anything. Our fields are an embarrassment,” girls' soccer coach Glenn Gess said.
Maintenance of the turf field is not just a matter of mow, blow and go. “Maintenance numbers are all over the board. A [turf field] salesman would tell you to do the maintenance every day,” Hopper said.
The equipment and products specifically used to clean turf include an industrial size vacuum and products to remove “bodily fluids.” One member of the audience said “I’m concerned about kids playing on a plastic surface that’s been treated by chemicals.”
Hidden costs, environmental issues, safety and the increased heat that comes with turf were discussed were key concerns raised during public comment.
Mary Fagan, a borough resident, said she had concerns about the turf field’s lack of warranty protection for acts of God and vandalism, a point which Hopper had listed in his analysis. Fagan said, “I have concerns about the costs for fencing, tree removal and the drainage which could overwhelm the environment.” Residents asked about the chemicals that could lurk, linger or emanate from turf fields.
One other point in the debate has to do with high school athletes having to go to sports fields all across Haddonfield—whether it’s the field at Crows Woods or Radnor Field. Either the students walk or they pile into parents' and friends' cars. Sometimes those caravans exceed the passenger capacity the car was meant to hold.
Lisa Keeley-Cain said, after sending her two sons to St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia, she thought it would be so much more convenient when her daughter began playing Haddonfield sports.
“Boy, was I wrong,” Keeley-Cain said. One driver, she said, transported 12 kids to practice in one car and in one trip. “If parents of kindergartners knew about this, I think they’d be happy to support the turf fields," she said.