Tough turf

When Columbus East and Columbus North High Schools installed turf on their football fields in 2006, they were given an eight-year guaranteed warranty and told to expect a 10- to 15-year life span.

Although that life span for the turf is soon to run out, the schools haven’t yet began making plans to replace it once it wears out. The turf at both schools, they say, is still in good shape.

“Ours looks like it’s doing pretty good,” North athletics director Jeff Hester said. “I think we could maybe get at least another five years out of ours, maybe more. It’s held up really nicely.”

Last summer, both schools had their fields cleaned, groomed and dragged with a magnet to pick up metal at a cost of about $2,000 per school. Hester said nine bags of debris were removed from the North field.

“They said our field looked great,” East athletics director and football coach Bob Gaddis said. “They did some repair work and did some testing on it, and we were in good shape. They told us we could expect to get some more good years out of it. It’s outlived what they thought it would.”

The installation

The idea of installing turf was broached after both East and North won regional football championships in 2004.

“The main push was the football programs had both gotten on the map in 2004 when they made it to semistate, and our fields were not in good shape,” Gaddis said. “Some people got behind the effort. It was a total community effort.”

Michigan-based AstroTurf, which has since had its name bought by General Sports Turf, installed the turf at East and North for a combined cost of $1.5 million in 2006.

Gaddis said the two fields were the first ones that the company installed in Indiana. He said it wanted to show top-of-the-line fields in Indiana in an attempt to increase business in the state.

“When we were investigating, we wanted to know how long they had been around, how much money was in their coffers,” Gaddis said. “We didn’t want a fly-by-night company coming in and leaving.

“The first four or five years, we had a lot of people come by and look at our fields,” he said. “We still get questions about it all time.”

Columbus attorney Pete King at North and SIHO top executive Dave Barker at East spearheaded the fundraising effort, which included plenty of in-kind donations. Gaddis credited former North athletics director Hedy George with moving the project along.

“Hedy was a tireless worker on the turf project,” Gaddis said.

Hester, who came to North in 2008, had put in field turf as the athletics director at Heritage Christian, using Holland-based Desso Sports Systems.

“Every brand is sold different,” Hester said. “You try to get at least 15 years out of your field, and if you get 20, that’s doing pretty well.”

Pellet problems?

Alarm bells went off last year when individuals across the country who had been playing on turf became afflicted with cancer, mainly non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The common theme among the affected players is that they had either swallowed or become infected through cuts in their skin with bacteria from the tiny black rubber pellets, which usually come from used car tires.

Although a large chunk of the afflicted players were soccer goalkeepers in the state of Washington, the potential remains for anyone using the turf. Hester said he has North’s field sprayed once a month with antimicorbrial spray by the health department.

“I have not had any concerns directed toward me,” Hester said. “All the research I’ve read, there’s nothing conclusive that it is harmful to athletes. We’ve done a lot of things on our end to prevent infections.”

Bill Jensen, director of secondary education for Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., credits Ron Hoskins, who works in transportation and maintenance, with keeping the fields clean and safe.

“Ron has done a good job supervising the maintenance of the turf,” Jensen said. “There’s quite a bit of maintenance that has to be done as far as redistributing the pellets. For the most part, it was safe from injuries, as long as you did a good job with the maintenance and found the bacterial stuff.”

Multiple uses for turf

One of the big advantages of having a turf field is that it can be used for a variety of events. Not only to the football teams play and practice on the fields, they are also used for physical education classes, band practices, and occasional practices in soccer and other sports.

“We were one of the first in the state to have it, but now, anytime somebody builds a new school, they put in turf,” Gaddis said. “We use it for everything. When the weather breaks, there’s kids out there all the time. You don’t have to worry about wearing it out.

“It’s good for everybody,” he said. “Specifically for football, the safety of the practice field is incredible. Before, you had to go to a grass field, and you’d wear spots out, and you’d have holes. Now, you have a perfect surface to practice on.”

Jensen said it is cheaper to maintain the turf fields than the old grass fields.

“You still have to provide maintenance,” Jensen said. “You don’t have the constant mowing and reseeding and watering. I’m sure it’s a lot less expensive, but it’s not like it’s maintenance free.”

Replacing the turf

A quick glance at the fields shows a little more wear at North than at East.

“Our report to the school corporation is that it’s in good shape, and we’ll address it when there’s a need,” Gaddis said.

“I think it’s lasted well,” North football coach Tim Bless said. “It’s survived for quite a while. It has some stages of wearing and some rips here and there, but it’s still a lot better than a grass field.”

Bless said when the turf was installed in 2006, the schools looked at places like Center Grove, Carmel and University of Indianapolis, which had recently put in turf fields. All of those schools are now on their second generation of turf.

“So in the not-to-distant future, we need to have a plan,” Bless said.

“We’ve been trying to keep up the maintenance really heavy with them,” Jensen said. “Right now, they’re holding up pretty well. We’re in good shape. We’re real pleased with the maintenance we’ve had on it and the attention that both athletic directors have placed on it.”

Jensen said if and when the school has to raising funds again, it shouldn’t be as expensive because the foundation that was built should still be good. He said he hopes that the community would join together again to fund the project.

“But we don’t know what that’s going to look like that far out,” Jensen said. “Our first preference would be for it to be raised independently, but we have to have a contingency plan. Because we’ve extended the life, it’s not a high priority on our radar at this point.”

At a glance

What: Field turf at Columbus East and Columbus North High Schools

When installed: 2006

Company: AstroTurf (now called General Sports Turf)

Cost: $1.5 million combined for both schools

Life expectancy: 10-15 years (guaranteed warranty for eight years)

Author photo
Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.