Athletic fields serve an important purpose at every educational organization, giving students a place to participate in competitive, intramural and recreational activities, as well as providing a way for the community to engage with your organization. There are definitely pros and cons of both artificial turf and natural grass playing fields, and one may be better than the other for different fields at your institution depending on many factors including: weather/climate, primary purpose (sports vs. community use), and capital budget for initial installation and ongoing maintenance.
Our peers on the Facility Masters Listserv shared their insight, personal experiences and best practices in a recent discussion.
“Artificial turf fields do allow for a lot of use but are far from maintenance free. We have found that they are only practical when you are prepared to charge significant fees to cover their cost and use them for competitive athletic events only. Players need to use the correct cleats since the wrong ones tear up base lines and seams.”
“Maintenance includes regular inspections, sweeping, flushing, refilling the infill mix, repairing tears, seam splits and worn spots. We trained in-house staff to do repairs since hiring out is expensive. You have to ‘irrigate’ them to flush the drainage system and keep them clean. The carpet lasts 6-10 years depending on use, so you have to plan to replace it regularly and figure out a funding stream.”
Kathy Johnson – Seattle Public Schools, WA
“We have both real and artificial in many areas (athletics and playgrounds). If you go artificial, it better be very high quality, such as FieldTurf (most NFL and baseball fields are done with that company) – expensive but worth it. If you go cheap or less expensive… you get what you pay for!
“We are currently installing 2 new artificial turf football fields (redo’s) and building a new $48 million stadium with artificial turf football and baseball and softball fields. Cost to install them is about $700K+ per field (football), then replacement cost (fabric only) is about $350K every 10 years. Lots of capital expense, so it must be scheduled in the master plan for every 10 years. The field must last at least 10 years, and you must replace it by 12 years (with heavy use year round). Also they MUST pass the new safety codes and drop test for cushion and bounce.”
“Real grass fields are tough here in the southwest because we get little rain and must water every other day. Fields are used heavily and wear out, so we have to take them off line often to let them rest and grow.”
John Dufay – Albuquerque Public Schools, NM
“After extensive research, my opinion is that unless you need to play many sports in every season, natural turf is still best. If you were to do a financial analysis, I believe you would find you could re-sod a field every year for less money than the annual amortized cost of artificial turf. My biggest concern is what happens if, when the time comes to replace it, you do not have the funds to do so? You can always play on dirt in a budget crunch, but you can’t play on artificial turf that is worn beyond use. ”
David Kimel – Bellows Free Academy, VT