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Too Early for Turf Worries?

As high school's artificial field approaches eighth anniversary, officials fret over future costs.

When the artificial turf field was installed at Watchung Hills Regional High School, the field was expected to last about eight years, after which it would need to be replaced.

The field was installed in September 2004, at a cost of about $573,000 by Bergenfield-based Dakota Excavating. Now, officials are wondering if a fund should be created to pay for replacement costs, which some districts have estimated could be nearly $1 million.

Board of Education member Paul Seelig broached the subject at the Dec. 19 meeting, suggesting the board consider reviewing fees charged for the field's use to defray the eventual costs of replacement.

"It is going to cost a pretty big chunk of change and we probably ought to start planning for that," Dr. Seelig said.

Before the board members begin planning, they can take some comfort in the experiences of other schools, which are finding the fields lasting much longer than originally projected—and repair costs coming in lower than earlier estimates.

Most schools undergoing such field replacements have anticipated spending an amount at least equal to the original installation costs, but replacing fields is generally less expensive. Although it can vary considerably, most appear to cost about $400,000—still a "pretty big chunk of change," but less dramatic than many fear.

Starr Dinio, business administrator for the Mahopac School District, in Mahopac, N.Y., said she is expecting to pay $600,000 to $800,000 next year for the district's artificial turf field replacement at Brewster High School—but adds, "We won't know until we actually receive the (requests for proposals) back."

Replacement fields at Petaluma, Calif., and the North Hills School District outside of Pittsburgh were recently installed, with both projects costing less than $400,000. Dinio—or Watchung Hills—may even get lucky enough to find someone like Jim Dobmeier, who installed a new artificial field at the Buffalo Bills' home stadium—for $178,000, the Buffalo News reported in May, 2011.

Then there's the question of when the field will need replacement. Although the fields have expected life spans of eight to 10 years, Jim Lampe, of the St. Louis-based artificial turf maintenance and repair specialists Sports Install, says many fields are lasting up to 15 years.

"It  depends on what went in on it and what kind of maintenance has been done," he said.

His company provides maintenace for fields around the country at a cost of about $6,000 that includes vacuuming the surface, replacing the fill below the surface and repairing any seams that are coming apart. He said such steps can extend the life of the fields greatly, but says it can depend on the installation, too—one district he worked with had to replace a field build on a hillside after only a few years.

So, with a little luck—and perhaps vacuuming—the artificial turf at Tozier Stadium could last for many more years, making the board's planning for the day it does need to be replaced easier to digest.

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