Residents torn as Chesterfield County considers switching high school fields to turf

Chesterfield County

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Football, soccer, field hockey and lacrosse games could soon look different at Chesterfield County Public Schools’ (CCPS) 10 high school campuses, with an approximately $20 million proposed project to replace grass fields with turf.

While some Chesterfield County residents have expressed their support for the proposal, others are speaking out against it, voicing concerns about cost and injuries.

One such individual is Mike Uzel, a lifelong county resident and former Thomas Dale High School student.

“I’m a taxpayer, and I’m always concerned about spending in Chesterfield and my wallet,” he said. “[I] just want to make sure that what’s being done makes sense monetarily and also on the safety side.”

Uzel told 8News that he found out about the proposal for synthetic turf fields after the Sept. 8 joint work session of the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors and School Board. At that meeting, Chief Operations Officer Josh Davis said that Monacan and L.C. Bird high schools have the greatest need for immediate upgrades to their fields.

He said that each turf field would cost about $2 million to build, with several benefits to switching from grass to synthetic turf.

  • All-weather, fewer postponements
  • Increased playing time
  • Reduced maintenance labor and expense
  • Reduced water consumption
  • No pesticides
  • Fewer injuries
  • Less time to set up for events
  • More cost effective

However, Uzel said that there are studies that show a greater likelihood of injuries on turf fields, as well as cancer risks.

“There seems to be, pretty much, a lot of evidence that there’s more injuries on artificial turf than natural grass, and that should be a big concern, especially at the high school level, where kids are still developing and growing,” he said. “Their bones aren’t fully developed, so there seems to be more evidence — the studies I’ve looked at, there’s more chance of injury from artificial turf than natural grass.”

In fact, a 2019 study by Cleveland-based University Hospitals showed that during the 2017-18 athletic season, 26 high school trainers reported 953 injuries in student-athletes: 368 were on natural grass, while 585 were on synthetic turf. There has also been varying data about the nature of injuries on turf, with some research showing that there are more severe ankle and knee injuries on synthetic turf.

However, artificial turf has greatly improved since its introduction in the 1960s.

An analysis by FIFA’s Medical Assessment and Research Centre of the incidence and severity of injuries sustained on grass and synthetic turf during two FIFA U-17 World Championships. According to FIFA, “The research showed that there was very little difference in the incidence, nature and causes of injuries observed during games played on artificial turf compared with those played on grass.”

Another concern that Uzel expressed was about the cost of building the new turf fields, in addition to maintenance costs over the years.

At the Sept. 8 meeting, Davis said that each CCPS high school spends an estimated $20,000 to $25,000 annually to maintain its existing grass fields. But according to the Synthetic Turf Council, a turf field usually has a higher upfront cost, with the field typically paying for itself over the course of three or four years.

Synthetic turf fields are typically utilized for about 3,000 hours of play per year, with no “rest” required, the equivalent of three to four well-maintained natural turf fields. In addition, synthetic turf maintenance costs are two to three times less than natural turf, since no mowing, irrigation or chemicals are needed. Because of its consistent availability, a synthetic turf field is also a reliable source of rental revenue for schools and communities.

Synthetic Turf Council

With $2 million in upfront costs, however, Uzel said he is concerned about whether turf is really the best use of funding.

“They’re not building new fields,” he said. “They’re just replacing what we already have, is what they’re proposing.”

Elected officials on the Board of Supervisors and School Board are working with county leaders on a mix of county government and school projects, including this proposal, according to a spokesperson for Chesterfield County. Although discussions are ongoing, the funding for the turf fields would likely be part of a larger bond referendum.

According to County Administrator Dr. Joe Casey, additional information about two of the fields in this proposal could come up at the Board of Supervisors’ Nov. 17 meeting.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

StormTracker 8

Trending Stories

More Trending Stories

Local Events