High school campuses to get field upgrades, but not artificial turf

Jack Durham
Mad River Union

McKINLEYVILLE/ARCATA – In the coming year, a new football field and all-weather running track may be built at Arcata High, while over at McKinleyville High a new track may be installed around an upgraded football field.

However, in McKinleyville, the field will most likely consist of natural grass rather than the artificial turf voters were told they might get in 2010 when they passed Measure Q.

Artificial turf for McKinleyville’s football field was one of many projects listed in the $25.8 million bond measure which voters passed overwhelmingly nearly seven years ago.

Supt. Roger Macdonald

But in researching the cost of artificial turf, staff and a consultant with the Northern Humboldt Union High School District found that the all-weather fields are costly and have some serious downsides.

Installing synthetic turf at Mack High would cost roughly $728,000. That amount includes the cost of recycling the polyurethane grass after it wears out in about 10 years and has to be replaced.

Knowing that it would need to replace the turf, the district would have to set aside roughly $72,800 a year for 10 years, according to information provided to the school board at a special meeting Aug. 3. This would allow the district to replace the worn field after a decade.

They money set aside for the artificial turf replacement would be in addition to $67,200 a year that would be set aside to replace the two rubber tracks at Arcata and McKinleyville High schools. Those tracks will cost about $300,000 each.

Measure Q bond money would pay for the projects, but would not fund the set asides for future replacement.

There are also maintenance costs with synthetic turf. According to Merritt Ford, district director of Maintenance and Operations, there is always a chance that the turf could be damaged.

There are hundreds of players that use the field, he said. It’s possible that a player could mistakenly put on his metal cleats and take to the field. “And the kid happens to drag his foot and we’ve got a gash in our artificial turf,” Merritt said.

“Under warranty and service agreements, we can’t stitch it back together,” Ford.

The company that sold the district the synthetic turf would then need to send someone out to make the repair, which could delay use of the field for other games.

With natural grass, Merritt, he can just grab some sod and make the repairs himself.

New district Superintendent Roger Macdonald, who was previously the principal at Mack High, said that if the school had artificial turf, it would have to take more precautions to protect the field from damage and might have to exercise greater control over access.

““We’d probably have less access to our field if it was synthetic than we would if it was grass,” Macdonald said.

Another problem with synthetic turf is that players suffer more injuries than on natural turf, said Victor Smith, a consultant the district hired to assist with Measure Q expenditures. And when someone bleeds on the synthetic turf, it needs to sanitized.

However, there is a definite upside to synthetic turf – it doesn’t get soggy and unplayable due to winter rains.

“The strongest argument for synthetic turf is playability,” Macdonald said.

In other towns, synthetic turf can make sense because it doesn’t require watering, thereby reducing water bills. But McKinleyville irrigates its fields from a well and has no shortage of water.

Macdonald suggested an alternative that maintains natural turf and increases playability – rebuilding the field so it has better drainage.

The entire field would be dug up. It would have drainage underneath and would be layered with rock, sand, soil and turf, similar to the upgrade that took place years ago at the Arcata Ball Park.

Matt Filar, who sits on the Humboldt Crabs Board of Directors, said the Arcata Ball Park is playable within 24 to 48 hours of a rainstorm, depending on the amount of rain.
“Our fields recover very well after a rainstorm,” Filar said.

The district may also upgrade  Mack High’s baseball, softball and soccer fields.

By most standards, McKinleyville already has top notch outdoor sports facilities, with new bleachers, lights and a scoreboard.

Arcata, on the other hand, has swampy field off Foster Avenue with no track. Arcata High rents the track and field at Humboldt State and the Arcata Ball Park for games, but practices on its subpar fields.

Engineers are drafting plans to build a properly drained football field, which would be surrounded by an all-weather track, at Arcata High,

The projects may get underway next year, although the district still needs to complete the engineering and cost estimates.

More details were expected to be released at a meeting Tuesday, Aug. 8 after the Union went to press.


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