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Natural or Synthetic? Council Debates Turf for Fields

Big McKelvey, Crittenden and the newly approved Shoreline Fields could soon have green turf instead of green grass.

As the city considers how to do more with less, the conversion of certain grass athletic fields to artificial turf has garnered some nods from Mountain View members.

"My gut says grass," said Councilwoman Ronit Bryant. "I didn’t find flags that were of concern to me. It seems artificial turf seems like an acceptable solution."

At the study session on Tuesday, Oct. 11, elected officials learned that a change to synthetic turf for , Crittenden Field and the recently approved Shoreline Fields would increase playability and reduce overall maintenance costs. There would be less environmental and health impacts as well.

According to the staff report, under the city's 2008 Recreational Plan unlit artifical fields would offer about 1,000 hours of use. However, they've realized that at the Field, nearly 2,740 hours of play took place on the synthetic turf during fiscal year 2010-11, almost 300 percent more than originally expected. If more fields had synthetic turf and had lights, the recreation staff believed that their use would increase to 3,200 hours per year.

Currently the city closes all playing fields between January and March every year for a "recovery period." This forces teams to jockey for an already tight Spring, Summer and Fall field availability schedule.

"Artificial turf would increase playability," said Scott McGee, a teacher at Graham Middle School and a soccer league coordinator in the city. For example, "because of the rain this past weekend, the fields were closed." 

Rain would not be a problem on an artificial surface. According to athletic facilities planning consultant Jay Beals, different types of synthetic surfaces could serve the different environments in Mountain View.

For example, one option would not allow water to seep entirely through every layer of the turf, but instead the water collects into a tightly woven liner and then drains to the side. This would be suitable for Shoreline Fields because of concerns to the landfill maintenance. Another option does allow water to drain through and could probably be used at McKelvey Park since their would already be a Water District project moves forward.

Also from the environmental perspective, artificial turf requires no water to maintain.

"The type of synthetic turf has not been decided," Beals said.

Concerns about injuries were also somewhat alleviated. According to medical reports cited by staff there was no difference between the type and number of injuries incurred between synthetic and natural turf. However, turf can absorb more heat—almost 40 degrees higher than the air temperature. However, this can be mitigated with cloud cover, with sprinkling water on the turf or by playing later or early in the day.

"The synthetic turf has been very popular with students and community," said Craig Goldman, superintendent of the about the success of the field at Graham. "It provides consistent conditions, appears to be a safe surface, we have not seen increase in injury and if you stop by on any weekends you will see the activity which is a product of the great field there."

The MVWSD and the city both share Graham Field, which would be the same arrangement with a new synthetic turf at . But Goldman empasized what a new field at Crittenden would mean to students there.

"We think it's important to have equitable facilities on both sides of Central Expressway," he said. "Some kids think they don’t get the same as kids on the other side."

While all councilmembers agreed on synthetic turf for the Shoreline Fields, and most seemed to agree on "astroturf,"–the more widely known nomenclature for previous generations of synthetic turf–for Crittenden Field, several expressed hesitation about substituting grass at McKelvey because if the importance of open space.

"Neighbors use McKelvey as a park not just a field," said Abe-Koga. "I would like to leave that open still."

The council also discussed whether or not to create a synthetic turf policy but no clear majority voice arose.

City staff will now take council's comments into consideration for final recommendation.

Editor's Note: Updated at 11:42 a.m. to clarify that water does drain through the artificial turf and that several council members did show opposition to synthetic turf at McKelvey. Updated at 3:52 p.m. with information and quote from Jay Beals.

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