President, Shrewsbury Athletic Boosters Association
As head of the boosters’ group, I am thankful to the School Committee for agreeing to proceed with the plan to build an artificial turf at the high school, and authorizing our fund drive to help make this needed project a reality. Our organization has already funded the feasibility study that led to the plan.
The peak use of the high school field takes place in spring and fall, leaving no opportunity to give the natural turf the rest periods needed. As a result, the field has deteriorated to the point that even with proper maintenance, its usage must be limited, and games moved or canceled due to inclement weather. And the condition of the field after long winters also puts our spring sports teams at a disadvantage, requiring them to practice indoors when competing schools are outdoors on their artificial turf fields. At times we even have to give up home games. Having a turf field would eliminate those problems.
The feasibility study noted that the scheduling of rest periods is crucial to the ability of a natural turf field to sustain heavy usage. Ideally, a field should have a 30-day rest during the active growing season, spring or fall, to repair the root zone damage it has sustained and to propagate new crown growth. The rest can also be scheduled in the summer, but is less effective at that time of year because the turf grass is somewhat dormant. And it only takes playing once on a very wet field to destroy the turf root zone for that season.
The use of synthetic turf at the high school is the only solution to these problems. It offers the kind of durability and all-weather access that the school and our community need to meet the demand for playing time. The resting period and maintenance required, even in the summer months, would now be eliminated, making the fields available for multiple uses. The fees collected by groups using the field could also generate revenue for future needs and upkeep. A natural grass surface, no matter how well maintained, will not meet these requirements.
Chemical engineer, attorney, member of Sustainable Shrewsbury
Shrewsbury High School has neglected its grass field for the past 14 years, and it shows. Without even considering organically managed grass as a cheaper, safer, and environmentally friendly option, Shrewsbury wants the community to support the installation of an $800,000 plastic field. Even if initial fund-raising is private, taxpayers could soon inherit the burden of this project. According to a study cited in a report by UMass Lowell’s Toxics Use Reduction Institute, annualized costs over 16 years of installing, maintaining, and replacing synthetic fields are twice those of natural grass.
The only thing “green” about synthetic turf is its color (thanks to the lead in the plastic grass fibers). For a town that proudly banned retail plastic bags, it seems counterproductive to invest in acres of plastic carpet that need to be replaced and disposed of every eight years, in perpetuity. Maintenance chemicals including antimicrobials, herbicides, and flame-retardants are often used to maintain the warranty and keep the field sanitized. As it wears, the chemically treated infill and plastic grass could potentially migrate into Shrewsbury’s waterways (the field is located in our Aquifer Protection Overlay District). By contrast, grass traps dust and dirt, reduces pollution and runoff, filters stormwater excess, and reduces sediment and pollutants from entering waterways.
Synthetic fields are not regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission as children’s products. Regardless of the infill, synthetic fields pose numerous health risks including extreme temperatures, increased MRSA/staph infection rates, and direct exposures to toxins. Only when the materials are uniform and controlled, and adequately proven to be safe for ingestion and inhalation by children long-term, should we accept industry claims of safety. Organically maintained grass, on the other hand, provides a cooling effect, naturally disinfects, and offers a range of positive benefits to human physical and mental health.
Given current events, we must increasingly rely on state and local officials to protect our health and environmental interests. To that end, our group has joined the Massachusetts chapter of the Safe Healthy Playing Fields Coalition, and we hope that the wise citizens of Shrewsbury will see past the synthetic turf sales pitch and remember our roots.
Last Week’s Argument: Should food trucks be allowed to operate in downtown Needham?
Yes: 66 percent (107 votes)
No: 34 percent (54 votes)
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org