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High school football fields to be replaced with synthetic turf

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High school football fields to be replaced with synthetic turf
High school football fields to be replaced with synthetic turf

River City Sportsplex’s 12 multipurpose synthetic turf fields, above, are about to get company: the county plans to replace grass football fields at each of its 10 high schools with artificial turf. JAMES HASKINS

By this time next year, Friday night football games at Monacan and Lloyd C. Bird high schools could look very different. The grass football fields at the two county schools are slated to be replaced with synthetic turf as early as next summer, with other high schools to follow.

Josh Davis, chief operations officer for Chesterfield County Public Schools, announced the turf field initiative during a joint work session between CCPS and the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors on Sept. 8. The initiative calls for replacing existing grass football fields at each of the county’s 10 high schools with synthetic turf at a cost of $2 million per field.

Officials say the new fields will be available for community use and will accommodate a variety of youth sports, including football, lacrosse, soccer and field hockey.

“We’re excited about this opportunity to do this in partnership between the schools and the county,” Davis said in a recent interview. “It’s really going to benefit our students, community and perhaps even our visitors.”

Joseph Tylus, executive director of constituent services for CCPS, said in an email last week that a committee assessed the field conditions at each of the county’s high schools to determine which ones had the biggest immediate need for an upgrade. After examining various factors, including water and drainage issues, Tylus said the committee recommended replacing the fields at Monacan and Bird first.

Construction could begin as early as next spring or summer, Davis said, but a start date for the projects has yet to be determined. If all goes according to plan, the fields could be ready for the fall 2022 football season.

The county will fund the purchase and installation of all 10 synthetic turf fields, Davis said, and the school system will provide the ongoing field maintenance.

“I think [this] demonstrates a tremendous commitment to equity and equitable access to the resources that all of our kids deserve – amazing athletic facilities [and] amazing schools,” School Board member Dot Heffron said during the joint work session with county supervisors in early September.

Heffron, who represents the Clover Hill District, is the mother of two marching band Chiefs at Monacan High School. She said she’s spent a lot of time on the existing field and recalled a conversation she had last spring with Danny Parsons, Monacan’s director of student activities, who told her the school was financing field renovations by saving up athletic booster money. According to the Monacan High School athletics webpage, a $25 membership fee pays for uniforms, field and court maintenance and other competition-related expenses. However, Parsons told Heffron the expense of maintaining a grass field is almost cost-prohibitive for a high school sports team.

One benefit of a turf field is that it costs less to maintain than natural grass, Davis said, adding that each high school spends an estimated $20,000 to $25,000 annually to maintain its existing grass fields, which includes fertilizing, regular mowing and applying other treatments.

That said, synthetic turf does require some cleaning and maintenance, as well as eventual replacement; according to the Synthetic Turf Council, the industry’s primary trade group, the lifespan of a synthetic turf athletic field varies depending on how it’s used and maintained, but they’re typically warranted for eight years.

According to a presentation from Davis, other advantages of synthetic turf include all-weather use resulting in fewer game postponements and increased playing time. The artificial turf also doesn’t require pesticide treatments and requires less setup time for games and special events.

Davis said synthetic turf fields can also reduce injuries to student-athletes. Recent studies, however, suggest that synthetic turf might not always be the safest option.

According to a 2019 study conducted by University Hospitals Sports Medicine Institute in which researchers analyzed data collected by 26 high school athletic trainers during the 2017-2018 athletic seasons, high school athletes were 58% more likely to sustain an injury while playing on artificial turf, with injury rates being significantly higher in football, soccer and rugby.

During the Sept. 8 meeting, County Administrator Joe Casey said the new high school fields will be “softer than [what] is at River City,” a 115-acre, county-owned sports complex off Genito Road with 12 synthetic turf fields. “These are going to be the best fields around,” he said.

While the finalized memorandum of agreement between the school district and the county will give high schools first-priority use of the upgraded fields, Chesterfield County residents will also have the chance to use the fields for athletic activities, including football, soccer, lacrosse and field hockey.

Elected officials say that the additional turf fields will bolster a growing youth sports tourism industry in Chesterfield, helping to lure more regional sporting events and tournaments.

School Board member Debbie Bailey, who represents the Dale District, is the parent of a student-athlete who plays traveling sports along the East Coast. During the Sept. 8 meeting, Bailey noted that tournament organizers often seek out synthetic turf fields to avoid postponements or cancellations due to inclement weather.

“There’s nothing worse than getting a whole team to travel to an out-of-town tournament [only] to get rained out because there is too much water on the field or something like that,” she said. “Those fields will pay for themselves in no time with our sports tourism, and that will have a ripple effect through our community with our hotels and our restaurants.”

According to Davis, each subsequent high school athletic field in the county is expected to be upgraded to turf in next three to five years. ¦