Letter: The Case for Natural Turf At The Amherst-Pelham Regional Schools


Natural grass field. Photo: PxHere.com. Public Domain

Option 2: “Natural” vs. Option 3: “Artificial”

The firm of Weston Sampson has sent three options for the renovation of the high school track to the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee. Option 2 delivers all the improvements needed to renovate the high school track and is affordable, clean, safe, sustainable and relies upon local assets to improve and maintain the Regional sports fields. Let’s encourage the Regional School Committee to choose Option 2.

Option 2 is affordable because the preliminary cost estimates given in April of 2022 were $3,768,800 This includes a 12% design bump, to reorient and resurface the track, and improve nearby access routes with a natural turf infield. The funding for this work would be $3,609,620 including those monies committed, requested or proposed. (Yes, the April estimates are now subject to increases due to inflation or other anticipated costs, but the numbers indicate that our four towns could pay for this option.)

Option 2 is clean because it keeps the Regional playing fields in natural turf. What’s more, there are institutions who are maintaining natural turf playing fields with organic programs that build healthy and sustainable grass athletic fields. By learning about these programs and adopting those practices our local turf managers can support our schools’ athletic programs and keep those playing environments safe for players and clean for the nearby ecosystem. 

Option 2 builds upon local assets. Our Regional Schools have always provided a healthy menu of competitive athletic sports for our students. That is a long tradition that has engaged our youth in these healthy activities for decades. The acreage of playing fields near the Amherst-Pelham Middle School and High School are ample enough to provide the annual playable hours required if the turf is maintained as described above and the practice and playing times are managed to spread wear and tear out across all those fields.

The plan currently approved by the Regional School Committee, Option 3, stipulates artificial turf on the track infield. The funding for the purchase and installation of this fake grass has not yet been secured. In addition, there are no funds secured for turf replacement in about 10 years, when that artificial turf wears out and must be disposed of at a cost. Then a new surface must be purchased and installed. The synthetic material in that turf has been shown to leach out “forever” chemicals that pollute the groundwater and nearby wetlands and streams. Our state legislature is processing bills that could be consequential for any track and field project which includes artificial turf because the legislation that states “No manufacturer, distributor, wholesaler or retailer shall offer for sale, sell or distribute in the commonwealth any products to which PFAS have been intentionally added, unless the department has determined that the use of PFAS in the product is a currently unavoidable use and grants a temporary exemption at intervals of no more than 3 years.”. In addition, there are health risks to athletes who play on artificial surfaces. Professional soccer and football stadiums have been moving away from artificial turf because players report injuries that are related to competing on these non-natural surfaces. 

So it is clear that the natural turf option put before the Regional School Committee, Option 2, with a grass field, is superior to Option 3 which includes artificial turf because it’s costs fall within the funding that can be raised by our four towns, it is clean and safe for our athletes and our natural environments, and a natural turf program can provide all the practice and playing time needed for our teams to compete. 

Let’s keep it simple: 

Affordable, clean, safe, environmentally and economically sustainable, and it builds upon our local assets – choose Option 2!

  • Tom Fanning, Pelham, Chair, Pelham Community Preservation Committee
  •  Maria Kopicki, Amherst
  • Cyd Reiman, Pelham
  • Judith Eiseman, Pelham, Chair, Pelham Planning Board
  • Tilman Lukas, Pelham, Pelham Conservation Commission
  • David Gross, Pelham, Pelham Conservation Commission
  • Maia Porter, Pelham
  • Daniel Robb, Pelham t
  • Richard Seelig, Pelham, Pelahm Conservation Commission
  • Lexi Dewey, Pelham, Vice Chair Pelham Planning Board
  • Anne Stoddard, Pelham, Secretary, Pelham Planning Board; member Pelham Anti Racism Committee
  • Bob Groves, Shutesbury
  • George Karras, M.D., Amherst
  • Jeanne Esposito, Amherst
  • Leslie Laurie, Pelham
  • Diane Gray,  Pelham
  • Sarah Matthews,  Amherst
  • Rob Kusner, Amherst
  • Margaret Hepler, Pelham
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4 thoughts on “Letter: The Case for Natural Turf At The Amherst-Pelham Regional Schools

  1. And what is the ongoing budget for natural turf fields maintenance, including the treatments need and water costs? As you well know, Amherst has a long history of paying for new things and then not keeping them up. To maintain a grass field requires lots of resources — tell us how much if you are in favor of such a field? How will this be paid for the next 25 years? Also, natural fields need to have rest periods throughout the year — what is the plan for events when a field rest is needed. Finally, an artificial field allows use pretty much year round, which optimizes the health of the community, as more people can be active, for much of the year. Artificial fields have been used for decades — the risk are being way overblown here — and the many benefits way undervalued. Life is a balancing act and nothing is risk-free, not even natural turf fields that require chemicals/pesticides and gallons and gallons of water. And if no chemicals are used, they require people power = $$$ — on an ongoing basis — every week, for decades — to maintain so they are safe and healthy. And a lot of water — and upkeep of the irrigation system to deliver the water. Lots of water.

    Jim Brissette

  2. Weston and Sampson (the consultants who provided the athletic strategic plan and cost estimates for the Track and Field options) quote $25-30K per year to maintain a grass athletic field and $10-15K for an artificial turf field. They also quote a “life cycle cost” over 12 years of $1.5M for a grass field and $2.5M for an artificial turf field, including only one round of replacement of the turf. Since artificial turf needs to be replaced every 8-12 years, that replacement cost (up to 75% of the initial investment) keeps occurring over and over again.

    Artificial turf fields also require several different types of specialized equipment to maintain properly – equipment we do not own so would have to purchase. And the more an artificial turf field is used, the more frequently maintenance and replacement is required. If an artificial turf does not have correct, regular maintenance, it will wear out sooner and pose even higher risks to players.

    I recommend watching this video (http://cityofstamford.granicus.com/player/clip/12107?view_id=9&redirect=true&h=1c280e7de1db580561aab09f2ca7d890) which includes a presentation by a professional athletic field manager with experience maintaining both grass and artificial turf athletic fields (he starts at ~50 minutes in but the rest of the video is also worth watching). The following are his figures. He estimates $30K/year annual maintenance cost for a grass field. With an initial cost of $400K to properly construct the field plus $150K for re-sodding once a decade (which he states shouldn’t be necessary if the maintenance happens), the 10 year cost is $910K (including 7% escalation); for 20 years it’s $1.45M. Compare that to an artificial turf field with an initial cost of $1M, annual maintenance cost of $15K, and re-carpeting/disposal of $665K every 10 years which comes out to $1.94M at 10 years and $2.85M at 20 years. Artificial turf is far more expensive than grass fields.

    Amherst certainly does have a solid history of NOT taking care of its assets. And maintenance does have a financial cost. But NOT maintaining fields and buildings and any other asset ultimately has a much larger cost. I would argue that the regional school district and the town need to budget for maintenance, and seek professional guidance about how to properly take care of our athletic fields, which are not just big areas of grass that need mowing.

    For less than the cost of the track and field project using artificial turf (Option 3), we can have the same enlarged, reoriented, and accessible track with a grass infield (Option 2) PLUS improve two other grass fields at the high school (for a total of more than 2X the field area) that can support the same play time and allow field rest time. And all without the unnecessary health, safety, and environmental problems of a huge plastic product that needs replacing every 8-10 years.

  3. Hey Amherst Field Boosters, a spectator from the sidelines here. Instead of continuing to pursue deadlines and fundraising goals which can’t be met, how about committing to raising money for the yearly upkeep of a grass field? That seems eminently doable and reasonable.

  4. Hear, hear, Steve!

    And in addition to – or instead of – fundraising, maybe committing to join a team of local volunteers who regularly perform that maintenance?

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