The Exeter Bulletin — Spring 2012
Second Synthetic Turf Field Proposed for PEA
Spring and fall athletic teams may get new playing surface
By Mike Catano
Two years ago, the fall Exeter/Andover Homecoming Weekend contests were marred by relentlessly heavy rains. Despite the conditions, the boys soccer team struggled through its match on the increasingly muddy and slippery natural grass field. Meanwhile, coaches and players on the girls team, which was scheduled to follow the boys on the same field, grew increasingly apprehensive that they might lose their chance to play. They were right. Director of Athletics and Instructor in Health Education Rob Morris ruefully recalls that decision. "I had to cancel the girls soccer game due to heavy rains. That disappointed athletes and fans. Having an extra synthetic turf field available would have prevented that. At the last minute, you can move one or two games to the turf."
A second turf field has been part of the Fields Master Plan of the Physical Education Department for many years. It would complement the existing stadium turf field, which is six years old. Another turf field is expected to significantly increase the flexibility to schedule team practices and interscholastic games, in addition to being available for use by the Physical Education Department for its many intrascholastic programs and classes such as its prep, intramural, fitness and club activities.
At their last meeting in October, the Trustees reviewed a presentation that outlined a concept plan and budget for a second synthetic turf field. The potential project was also discussed in May 2011 as part of a list of priority capital projects that would be financed through fundraising efforts. The Trustees decided to move forward with the field as funds are raised by the Institutional Advancement staff. The Facilities Management team will proceed with full design work when funds are available, with construction to follow on completion of the fundraising effort. In addition to the Trustees' review, two community forums were held on campus to give the Academy community the opportunity to voice their opinions.
Synthetic turf fields are used increasingly by professional, college and other teams. The current generation of synthetic fields is constructed over an underlayer of gravel, which serves as a collecting bed for water drainage. The turf itself consists of synthetic fibers that make up the "grass" surface, with an infill of sand or rubber granules, along with a permeable underlayer for cushioning. The infill helps support the grass fibers and provides additional cushioning while helping to reduce wear on the surfaces.
Facilities Management is working with its engineering design firm, as well as the Physical Education Department and members of the Academy community, to determine the best site for such a field at Exeter. Considerations include how to least impact the environment and existing field installations, as well as the Academy community's use of current playing fields. The proposed field and the existing synthetic field in Phelps Stadium would together comprise 14 percent of the Academy's playing fields, the rest of which are natural grass.
Health concerns sometimes arise when programs consider a switch to synthetic turf. A substantial body of research on this issue exists, including a comprehensive study conducted by the Connecticut Department of Public Health in 2010. These studies address issues such as air quality, temperature, and infections and abrasions. Academy community stakeholders have reviewed relevant literature, and concluded that health risks associated with the use of synthetic turf fields are minimal and the fields actually confer several important health benefits.
"There is nothing to suggest an increase in injuries associated with turf," says Gordon Coole, head athletic trainer at the Lamont Health and Wellness Center. "And there is a good case for the opposite. Inconsistent field surfaces [like] potholes, frost heaves, loose chunks giving way especially after heavy rains—none of these happen with synthetic surfaces. As a result, we see fewer ankle sprains, muscular strains and issues of tendonitis on turf than on grass. Similarly, inconsistent surfaces can cause bad hops of baseballs, lacrosse balls and even soccer balls that can result in injuries. Bottom line: Consistent surfaces result in fewer injuries. Regarding heat issues, our athletic schedule is late enough in the summer and early enough in the spring to not be a factor. As for skin abrasions and resulting infections, today's infill field turfs [neither] cause the wounds nor harbor the organisms that cause these problems."
Environmental Stewardship Manager Jill Robinson and Sustainability Education Coordinator and Instructor in Science Elizabeth Stevens P'14 co-chair PEA's Sustainability Advisory Committee. After its study of relevant research regarding the environmental impact of synthetic fields, Robinson summarized the committee's conclusions. "We reviewed studies from municipalities, colleges, and other peer-reviewed articles and listened to a presentation on the conceptual design of the fields from the field's designer and engineer. The body of literature on synthetic turf covers a range of issues including infiltration, lighting, safety, turf field materials and recycling of those materials. We concluded that the benefits of the field to the athletic program outweighed the impacts to the natural environment, but suggested that sustainability be incorporated into the site design through consideration of energy-efficient and dark-sky lighting, site permits, recycling of field materials after the field's useful life, and effective stormwater management."
Use of the proposed synthetic field would vary with the athletic seasons. During the fall term, the field hockey program would be the primary user of the field for practices and games, as it currently shares Phelps Stadium with the football program. The soccer program would also use the new field on occasion, depending on the condition of the grass fields. If needed, the larger size of the field would support multiple practices simultaneously. For example, Morris described how the existing stadium turf field was used during team tryouts last fall. "With all the rain during the tryouts, there were times when I had two soccer teams and a field hockey team on the field at the same time. A new field will allow me to spread those teams out."
Beginning in late February, the new field would be available for spring athletic team tryouts. In the spring, girls and boys lacrosse teams would share the turf fields for practices and games. Baseball and softball teams may also use the field for practice if the condition of the grass diamonds is unsuitable for play due to weather.
— By Mike Catano