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Prairie City News

To turf or not to turf

School board weighs pros and cons of grass versus synthetic turf for football field

The past football season had many high points, most notably culminating in a state championship. One low point, though, was the poor state of the football field before, during and after the season.

After the approving the resurfacing of the track at the high school during its last regular meeting, the PCM School Board held a work session Nov. 27 to discuss, among many topics, the idea of changing to synthetic turf on the field.

The board, with superintendent Brad Jermeland facilitating, created pro and con lists for moving to a synthetic turf or staying with a grass field. On the positive side, grass would cost less initially and upkeep could be done in-house. The case against keeping grass included the cost of field management, weather occurrences that cause the field to become unusable and taking out the irrigation system currently in place.

“One rainy night, the field is trashed, it is done. Not only for football but band,” board chair Mitchell Chipps said.

Chipps said the band was forced to practice in boots many times when they could be outside and the football team had to relocate a home game to Pella because of field conditions.

The board also talked about repurposing the irrigation for a different athletic field such as the baseball field or the middle school football field.

The biggest factor playing in to keeping the grass and not moving to turf is cost. The upfront cost of putting in synthetic turf is estimated at $1.2 million.

On the other hand, having turf would expand the use of the field to classroom use, most notably physical education and make for suitable conditions for football, band and soccer. It would also have substantially less maintenance.

With the board already approving work on the track, now would be the ideal time to put in the turf while the entire area is under construction.

“If we have to do the track anyway and we have to build a curb, I guarantee it will cost more later to come and put it in. If we wait, it may cost us more,” board member Steve Nearmyer said.

Jermeland broke down the time frame and cost of both renovating or replacing the grass field as estimated by Shive-Hattery engineering firm. To reconstruct the grass field, a minimum of 12 weeks would be required for a full field reconstruction with underground infrastructure upgrades but 16 to 20 weeks would be recommended for grass maturation. Given the time frame, the field could be unusable at the start of the next football season for the team and the band.

In transitioning to a synthetic field, the schedule is estimated at eight to 12 weeks.

Based on approximately two acres of field area, the total cost of construction for an ideal grass field, which Jermeland noted the field is currently not in ideal condition, is $327,250. For a synthetic field, the cost rises to $981,750.

Where the estimates flip is in the annual maintenance of the field. For a grass field, mowing is estimated at $4,500, irrigation repair and head replacement at $2,000, and annual turf repair and striping at $1,500. Two annual seedings come in at $7,000, aeration four times a year at $8,000, top dressing twice a year $9,000 and fertilization materials at $4,000. Water use costs add $7,600, bringing the total to $43,600.

A synthetic field decreases that amount to $7,700 with the majority of the costs coming from debris and trash pick up on the turf at $5,500. Annual turf repair is estimated at $500 while field groom six times a year comes in at $1,500.

The firm also gave 10-year projections for the life cycle of the fields. With a 4 percent annual increase projected, the cost of a natural grass field is $1.033 million while synthetic turf is $1.495 million. The annual cost per hour of play for grass is $103 to turf's $67.

Funds to pay for the cost of the field will come from school budgeting and not outside bonding.

Player safety was also discussed in relation to adding the turf. Representatives from Shive-Hattery explained the efforts put in to make sure the playing field is in top condition citing GMAX and Head Injury Concussion (HIC) ratings. Those ratings measure, among other factors, the likelihood of head injury arising from an impact on the turf.

“They now have a padding they can put directly underneath the turf that would make the GMAX and HIC less,” Jermeland said.

With the deadline to choose a path approaching in order to secure the needed construction companies for the work, the board will make a final decision on grass or turf during a special meeting Wednesday.

Contact Jamee A. Pierson at 641-792-3121 ext. 6534 or

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