GREENFIELD — For more than two years, a committee appointed by the Greenfield-Central School Corporation Board has investigated options to improve the high school’s football stadium facility and, notably, the playing surface.
On Monday, their agenda reached the implementation phase as the school board unanimously approved to hire Ohio-based Maumee Bay Turf Center to build a new artificial turf field for the Cougars.
“Honestly, it’s been more like three-plus years,” Greenfield-Central High School athletics director Jared Manning said. “(Former athletics director) Kevin Horrigan did the original research and met with vendors before I took over for him, so it’s been a project in the making, one we’ve been considering and thought hard about while weighing the pros and cons.”
One of the most striking pros stems back to root of the discussion, said Manning. Other than annual maintenance, the current natural grass field at Cougars Stadium has not been renovated for more than 40 years.
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Over the course of time since 1969, proper drainage has been a considerable issue both on the football and soccer fields on campus, a problem that has been magnified as rainfalls have reached and surpassed record levels the past two years.
With the installation of a synthetic turf with a construction cost of roughly $820,000, those headaches should subside, as well as the annual expenses associated with the upkeep of a grass surface.
“There is a price upfront, but obviously, the maintenance costs that are associated with a natural grass field go away,” Manning said. “We don’t have to worry about watering the field, fertilization, aeration, rolling, overseeding and painting the field. We don’t have to pay the hourly wages for someone to do that or the costs associated with that.”
On average, a synthetic field, if properly maintained, can endure a lifespan of nearly 10 years or more before requiring replacement, according to a study developed by John Sorochan, an associate professor of Turfgrass Science and Management at the University of Tennessee.
For field turf, routine surface brushing, sweeping, raking and infill top dressing will replace lawn care procedures. Greenfield-Central officials estimated the district will save about $20,000 annually, though they did not have specific figures on current maintenance costs at press time.
The key benefit, however, said Manning, entails the usage of the field, which can withstand the onslaught of brutal weather conditions and incorporate new potential outlets for the field beyond football.
“Any time you talk to a school or group that has gone from a natural grass field to a turf field, the first thing you talk about is the number of hours that it can be used, the number of events you can hold on it,” Manning said. “It increases the number of practices, games and marching band events.”
Those avenues have the coaching staffs and administrators at Greenfield-Central excited of the possibilities, despite the upfront and ongoing price tag.
The initial deposit for the renovation will be $215,532 taken from the corporation’s rainy day fund, which will cover the 25 percent down payment required to commit to the project.
With this approved advancement, Maumee Bay would break ground in June of 2017 and finalize completion before Aug. 1 prior to the start of the 2017-18 athletics season.
The UBU sports synthetic turf system involves a five-tier surface, topped by Harmony slit-film fiber and an infill mixture of 100 percent rubber particles.
Greenfield-Central is purchasing the UBU Intensity S5-R surface, which is similar to the system recently installed at U.S. Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings and the site of the 2018 Super Bowl.
UBU Sports is the stadium surface provider for other NFL franchises including the New York Giants, New York Jets, Cincinnati Bengals and New Orleans Saints.
Below the top 2.5-inch cushion, the field surface will be equipped with high-performance perforating for proper drainage and a two-layered backing system to maintain the surface’s integrity for intense use.
“The look is a big one, too. It’s going to look sharp. It’s going to look crisp and fresh. It’s going to look nice day in and day out,” Manning said. “No matter what the conditions are outside, it’s not going to change your opportunities to use the facility.”
The new field will feature the installation of goal posts with post pads, upgrades to the track and field competition areas for high jump, pole vault and long jump and inlaid game lines for both football and soccer.
According to Manning, the school won’t forgo using the current soccer fields and stadium, but now, there are options, if necessary.
“You don’t have to worry if we got 2 inches of rainfall today. You aren’t asking where football is going to practice or where soccer is going to practice. Now, we have a facility that can handle it,” he said.
“There’s no secret that the last few years, we’ve just been hammered with rainfall. Our soccer field is not the best in draining. What this does is create for our soccer programs a situation where if there’s not already something scheduled on that field, we might be able to move a game. In the last 15 years, we would have cancelled because of unplayable conditions.”
Those types of scenarios have plagued the soccer teams in recent seasons with the cancellation and postponements of the boys program’s Cougar Cup tournament and the girls’ Kickin’ Cancer event, which raises money for cancer research.
Safety conditions were of equal concern when pursuing the installation of a turf field for football and other sports. With heavy rainfall, muddy and uneven surfaces can create potential for injuries, officials said.
While there is no conclusive evidence showing fewer sports-related injuries on turf fields, a study by the Human Performance Research Center at West Texas A&M University concluded both natural grass and turf setups exhibit unique injury patterns that warrant further investigation.
The study, which surveyed eight high schools in Texas over the course of 85 games conducted on both surfaces from 1998-2002, revealed lower concussion injuries on field turf but more knee injuries.
Supporters of FieldTurf and the Department of Health and Human Development at Montana State University state evaluations from 786 college football games reported 1,164 injuries on FieldTurf versus 2,377 on natural grass.
The study boasts 15 percent fewer substantial injuries on FieldTurf, 24 percent lower ACL traumas and 11 percent fewer concussions.
“It’s going to give our kids a safe surface to compete on,” Manning said. “It will be safer than the natural grass field we have now for sure. We’re excited about that for our kids.
To assure student-athlete safety, basic testing procedures of the field will be required and conducted on a regular basis. G-Max testing or impact testing will be completed to measure shock-attenuation performance of the surface.
“If you let them go and let them sit, these fields will harden, just like a natural surface will, but if you maintain them the right way, you can make sure it’s safer than what we’ve been playing on,” Manning said.
Greenfield-Central will be the first school in the county to utilize a FieldTurf playing surface and joins Delta within the Hoosier Heritage Conference with their move away from a natural grass field.
In 2014, Manning and Horrigan surveyed 55 central Indiana high schools and found 36 schools had artificial turf fields. Greenfield-Central is among the larger schools in Class 4A football. Of 15 area 4A programs, six play on FieldTurf.
Greenfield-Central will increase the number while seeking community donations to secure the additional funds needed for the project.
Locally, corporate partnerships have assisted high schools pay for similar athletic upgrades including St. Vincent Health at Westfield, Hare Chevrolet in Noblesville and Reynolds Farm Equipment at Fishers and Hamilton Southeastern.
If funding isn’t raised through community contributions, the corporation is poised to cover the balance.
“That’s one of the things in the next week to 10 days we plan to sit down and go over the details in how we will go about to raise money,” Manning said. “Obviously, we’re going to contact as people as we can in the community and we’re going to seek donations to help alleviate costs and make sure this is done right and paid for in a timely manner.”