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New turf question on Sept. 12 bond referendum ballot

If School District 833's $107 million referendum passes, some high school athletes will find artificial grass under their feet.

Three million dollars of the referendum money would go toward new athletic field surfaces and running tracks at the district's two existing high schools, and the planned third high school.

If the Sept. 12 referendum for a third high school passes, facilities would be equal at all schools, superintendent Tom Nelson said.

"We are not going to create a condition where there are 'haves' and 'have nots'" said Superintendent Tom Nelson. "It's an equity issue."

If a new high school were approved, it would have an athletic field made from synthetic materials identical to the new surface in the Metrodome where both baseball and football are played.

Phil Kuemmel and John Soma, athletic directors at Park and Woodbury high schools respectively, said people should not think artificial fields would resemble the Astroturf that most athletes, coaches and fans hated. This is new technology, they said.

Fields would have blacktop bases slightly mounded in the middle to allow some water to run off. The bases are covered with layers of rock followed by layers of sand and rubber infills. The tops are carpets packed with artificial blades of grass.

Carpets are put down in much the same way as indoor home carpeting. Edges are secured and pieces are sewn together, according to Kuemmel and Soma.

The edges of playing areas for football and soccer can be sewn into the carpet with field markings for other activities applied with paint that only lasts for a month, Kuemmel said.

Among the advantages is that fields can be used nine months a year versus 2.5 months with natural grass.

One hundred and fourteen games are played now, but up to 500 events could be held on new turf including physical education classes.

There is no maintenance or watering, according to the two directors. The fields, which are already installed at many high schools such as Mounds View High School, are not slippery when it rains.

Fields need to be groomed with a sweeper once a year, but sweepers would be included in the price.

Among the potential users would be teams from the community, club sports, Air Force Jr. ROTC and dance teams.

Existing running tracks and fields are not safe, Kuemmel and Soma said. There are cracks in the tracks and uneven surfaces in the grass that can cause injuries.

Track manufacturers say fields last up to 12 years. But that is based on experience in southern states, Soma said, with most of the damage due to ultra-violet rays, which break down the grass blades.

A spray minimizes the damage, he said. In northern states, the field is protected for part of the year with snow covering. Kuemmel said the district is hoping for 15 years of wear before a new carpet would have to be applied.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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