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Turf war

I’ve spent the past week thinking about a letter published in last Monday’s paper from James C. Adams of Greenfield. He wrote.

I can’t help but wonder how much insulation we could buy for the price of an Astro-turf football field. Seriously?!

It got me thinking about the proposed turf field slated to be installed behind Greenfield High School so long as the ongoing construction of a new high school remains on budget. The town will also be getting a six-lane synthetic track surface.

Adams’ letter was in reference to an article written on June 29 in The Recorder by Chris Shores, who outlined what the GHS Building Committee was spending money on to make the new high school more energy efficient. The committee had about $600,000 in unused funds from the $52.9 million budget that had already been agreed upon, and it needed to decide what it would spend the money on. The result was that the school would be getting three more inches of insulation in the roof and 3.5 more inches of insulation in the walls. This would help cut down on heating and cooling costs, and would also cut down on carbon dioxide emissions. The committee also agreed to purchase a different flooring, which would cut down on custodial costs.

There were some items that the committee decided to pass on, including purchasing two additional lanes for the track, which would have taken it to an eight-lane track. The Greenfield Alumni Association is working to raise the money for this.

Some people still argued that there was more that could have been down to make the school more energy efficient had the state given more support, which is what Adams is referencing in his letter. However, it is my understanding that the turf field and school insulation have nothing to do with each other.

How much insulation to buy was a decision the committee had to make now, as it had to figure out exactly how to divide up the money from the $52.9 million budget. It can not go back and buy more insulation now. The only other possibility would have been to dip into the $2.9 of contingency money that the committee has at its disposal, but that was not going to happen because that money is being held on to in case there are unforeseen costs in this project. Call it a lesson learned from the Greenfield Middle School debacle from 13 years ago.

The original design for the new high school had already met the energy standards set by the Massachusetts School Building Authority, which is footing $42 million of the bill. The new insulation was simply added to help the school be even more energy efficient. But the state was not going to fork over even more money.

So we turn to the proposal to build a turf field. There is no money being taken away from insulation or any other energy-efficient proposal to build this field. In fact, the decision to build a turf field has not yet been made. If the school is going to get a turf field, it would come out of that $2.9 million in contingency money, should it be left over at the end. The town can actually do whatever it wants with the money. And we are all assuming that money is going to still be sitting in the account after all is said and down. We all hope it is, but who knows?

If the town does decide to spend some of the money, it could choose to build a turf field, although it should be pointed out that it would not be a football field. No work is slated to be done to Veterans Memorial Field (where the football team plays). Instead, the field would be one of the new fields built behind the high school, where it would be used for soccer and field hockey.

This brings up another question: Is it worth the money?

You can read stories online all day about the pros and cons of artificial turf fields, and I did come across a number of studies, some that supported turf, and others that didn’t.

The town of Wellesley posted a study on its website about Fieldturf versus Natural Grass, but it was done by a Fieldturf company, so you take it with a grain of salt.

It should be noted that regardless of whether natural grass or Fieldturf is installed, the town of Greenfield will pay for new fields to be built. The initial cost of installing a turf field is $520,000 according to the study, while a grass field is $380,000, but the maintenance is far less, costing just $5,000 per year for Fieldturf versus over $50,000 for natural grass when you figure in things like cutting, equipment, fertilizing, watering and other things. So over 10 years, you would get a $450,000 savings with a turf field. I’m guessing the Fieldturf company may have increased the cost for maintaining a grass field, since it allocated over $7,000 to new equipment annually, which I doubt is actually the case. But there is a savings in maintenance for sure.

Another pro for Fieldturf is that you can play as many games as you want on a turf field and not worry about the field deteriorating from over use, as you would with a grass field. There are also a number of studies that have been done about fewer injuries on Fieldturf.

But other studies suggest that the alleged savings on maintenance over 10 years will be blown when you figure that Fieldturf is supposed to be replaced after about 10 years. Another concern is that Fieldturf really heats up on hot days. Some studies suggest that Fieldturf heats up to 20-30 degrees hotter than the outside temperature due to the plastics used on the fields, which makes some people worry about dehydration and other heat-related injuries.

What do I think?

There is just something that having a turf field does for a high school. Mahar Regional School, which has a Fieldturf field, is a hot spot for hosting postseason events all fall long. And in a town (where I grew up) that seems to be deteriorating by the year (don’t believe me, just drive down Main Street some afternoon), having a state-of-the-art sports facility would be a positive and — dare I say — may even tempt kids to stay in town to attend school rather than “choicing” out. It would not come at the expense of making the school more energy efficient, but would give this town something more to brag about.

So we wait and see what happens.

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Finally, a quick thank you to Jane Ames, who has supplied our sports department with many of the great shots of the Greenfield Post 81 team over the past month-plus.

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com.

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