Artificial Turf Athletic Fields Continue to Benefit Students
When High School District 211 first installed new athletic fields with artificial turf, it was projected that the investment would open up numerous curricular opportunities at each school. After careful planning and execution, the fields were installed at all five high schools, two during the summer of 2008 and three during the summer of 2009.
The amount of opportunities the fields provided to D211 students continues to be the biggest advantage of making the switch to artificial turf. The obvious is that not only did football, soccer, and lacrosse teams benefit from the fields, but also physical education classes, marching band, and other spirit groups.
“The reason we advanced the idea was to open up space at each school,” said Dave Torres, associate superintendent for business. “When the District considered building additions for classroom space, we never looked at making a piece of our property a classroom space that not only accommodates physical education, but also expanded to performing groups.”
The original athletic fields were only used approximately 5 percent of the total usable or allowable time, Torres said. This is because the fields would be watered during the day and maintained in preparation for competitions and games. Additionally, when it rained or there was inclement weather, the grass would become unusable.
The new stadium turf consists of a complex drainage system that allows the field to be functional almost immediately after it storms. The top “grass” is essentially like a carpet that is laid down with infill consisting of recyclable and environmentally-safe synthetic rubber material.
Physical education classes have an opportunity to utilize the fields as long as weather permits. At one time, there can be two different classes using the field to play various games, including such activities as softball or soccer games. Before, classes would be limited to the amount of time they could go outside because there was no adequate space to be on.
“In the warm weather months, if the weather is over 40 degrees, we’re out there using the field as a facility,” said Michael Donatucci, retiring physical education department chair at Fremd High School. “We have two classes on the turf every period of the day, first and fourth quarter primarily. We play soccer, lacrosse, Frisbee, softball, or any field game that we can play. The fields have been well worth the investment.”
School marching bands also have utilized the fields for practice instead of being on asphalt parking lots. It is cooler in the summer because of a lack of heat reflecting from the asphalt, and it is better on the feet and legs of the musicians. When they march, they have a cushioned field to step on repeatedly instead of asphalt, in addition to practicing where they’ll perform.
“It has been an outstanding thing for us,” said Kevin Miller, music department chair and band director at Schaumburg High School. “In years past, we were delegated to either using the parking lot to practice or one of the practice fields, which are always in terrible shape because that is where the teams practice rain or shine. It’s almost like we’ve added a whole other facility. The field is always beautiful, and now we never have to worry about the weather.”
When the District first considered the installation of new turf fields, the timing wasn’t right primarily because of finances. However, because of the opportunities created by the fields, the District never considered them a luxury item. In order to enhance curriculum and overall student experience, the fields became a necessity.
Torres added that spring sports have benefited from the artificial fields, as well. Spring sports, such as girls’ soccer, start in March. Because many of the fall sports go late into November, a natural grass field has no time to recover for spring because of rain and mud.
“The artificial turf can be used at the earliest weather permitting opportunity in the spring,” Torres said. “We have had some interesting weather fronts this past year, and that has allowed some classes on the field as early as February.”
Maintenance has been very minimal. Groundskeepers at each school groom fields to make sure the artificial turf is cleaned and maintained in optimal functioning condition.
“One of the things we end up cleaning out of the fields the most are bobby pins from athletes that pin their hair up during competitions,” Torres said. “We have cleaning machines that have magnets, and it’s a great way to keep the fields clean and safe.”
All fields are GMax tested periodically, which measures the cushion of the fields to ensure that they meet appropriate standards. If there are certain areas that need more infill, it gets added. The fields haven’t needed a major maintenance update or replacement, however, it is anticipated that the lifespan will probably last eight to 10 years. At that point, most likely the turf or “carpet” will need to be replaced.
“Over time, we will continue to monitor the ‘carpet,’ and the infill on the top of it,” Torres said. “Our number one priority is to have a safe playing surface, for everyone to be able to be on there, and like anything else in District 211, we will try to maximize its useable life.”