Coming to a football field near you: Artificial turf

Surfaces allow multi-sport use, limit maintenance costs
Jun. 23, 2013 @ 11:08 AM

With this summer’s installation of turf on the football field at Gatlinburg-Pittman, it won’t be long before the county’s other high schools make the move to an artificial playing surface.

Sevier County Director of Schools Jack Parton confirmed Friday that the plan is for all five county high schools to have multi-use infilled synthetic turf fields by fall 2014.  

The infilled turf surfaces seen today differ from the older turf surfaces of the 1970s and ’80s because they more closely mimic blades of grass with “infill” — acrylic coated, green colored sand with microbial properties or black crumb rubber particles — between the blades, which provides a much more natural surface than the old rug-like fields.

“(Fall of 2014) is what we’re shooting for,” Parton said. “It’s going to be a logistical nightmare, I know. But we’re going to try. The best plans of mice and men don’t always come to fruition, but our plan is to have them ready by the time the next football season (2014) comes about. 

“It’s actually in the budget right now to put artificial turf on the other four fields. It’s in next fiscal year’s budget, so we would not begin those projects until after football season.”

While G-P’s switch to turf this summer may have helped spur the movement across the county, Parton indicated it was a change that had been considered for a while.

Many school systems across the country — including schools in Maryville, Morristown, Greeneville, Kingsport and Cherokee, N.C. — have been making the change to synthetic fields not only to reduce field maintenance expenses, but to increase use of  the fields.

“It’s the best decision we’ve ever made,” Kingsports Dobyns-Bennett coach Graham Clark, who’s Indians have played on an artifical surface since 2007, said Saturday.

Clark said the field’s low maintanence, combined with greater accessability, have allowed his team — and the school’s marching band — more field time. 

“There are a couple of things that we really like about (turf),” Parton said. “The fields normally last anywhere from 10 to 12 years, and from the numbers that we’ve gotten and other schools systems that I’ve talked to, maintenance on (grass) fields is anywhere from $40,000 to $45,000 a year.”

While replacing the current grass with turf will likely cost $500,000 to $600,000 per field, according to Parton, the savings in a decade without mowing, striping and watering could nearly cover the upgrade cost.

When the carpet on the fields has to be replaced, the underlying field infrastructure has already been done, meaning costs don’t approach the initial fees.

But the biggest plus Parton sees in going to synthetic surfaces is using the grounds for multiple sports without risk of overuse — which has caused ruddy, muddy messes on fields as well as clashes between teams competing for field space.

“Where we see it’s going to help us more than (maintenance savings) is to be able to have better use of our facilities on more of a daily basis,” the school director said. “Instead of us having to find places for other sports to practice and play, we will have a multi-purpose field at each of our high schools. So we’re very excited about that.”

At the new Northview Academy, for example, soccer and football won’t need practice fields. Instead they’ll share a quick-draining, tough, multi-purpose field that can stand the rigors of heavy usage.

“We don’t have any practice facilities at all down there, so that’s going to help us there immediately,” Parton said.

Another example of where the artificial surfaces will help is at Seymour High School, where soccer and football are forced to share Householder Field. 

With games played by both girls soccer and football in the fall, the teams are often walking a fine line between getting practice time on the field and tearing up the surface. By the end of the season, the midfield and sidelines can be treacherous.

“At Seymour (lack of available fields) has always been a nightmare,” Parton said. “And then at Pigeon Forge the football team and the soccer team have had to share the soccer field, which is a hindrance on the soccer program. So what we’re going to do is make all of our fields both soccer- and football-ready.”

The new turf fields will also help with band and the growing sport of lacrosse, according to Parton.

Parton said the school system’s portion of the costs will come from its capital outlay fund, which is earmarked for construction and capital expenses. But, he was proud to say, the communities and municipalities directly impacted by the project are stepping up.

Gatlinburg — where Rocky Top Sports World project (see separate story) is paying for G-P’s new turf fields entirely — Sevierville and Pigeon Forge are also kicking in funds toward the construction costs at the schools within their borders.

“It’s a win-win (for both schools and cities),” Parton said. “Both of the sister cities are contributing, which we’re very pleased with. The city of Sevierville has told us that they’re going to appropriate $300,000, and the city of Pigeon Forge, as well, has told us that they’re going to appropriate $300,000. We’re very, very pleased that they’re going to participate.”

Seymour High School, the only school not within a municipality, will be funded primarily by the school system, but the community as well will contribute.

“They’ve told us that they want to contribute $100,000 to the project,” Parton said. “It’s our charge as the Board of Education to administer as equally as we possibly can for all our students to have the same resources. We knew going in that we were going to have to (pay a larger percentage of the cost at Seymour). The children at Seymour are students in Sevier County, and they deserve to be afforded the same rights as the people at Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville.”

In exchange for the cooperation of the cities, the municipal governments will have access to the fields.

“Hopefully the two cities will be able to use it to generate additional revenues, which invariably affects the school system,” Parton said. 

The County Commission will vote Monday night on the school system’s fiscal year budget for 2013-2014, which includes the money for the turf project.

Parton said the school board passed the item unanimously.

“Each individual board member is very supportive of this,” he said.