It might be time to replace the natural grass field at the Northfield campus stadium with synthetic turf, athletic director Randy Oberembt told the New Trier Township High School District 203 board Sept. 19.
Doing so would cost about $1.4 million, but it would mean increase use for students and residents. The field could also be used all summer long, Oberembt said. No one is allowed to use the field between the time girls’ soccer ends in the spring and the first football game in the fall so that the grass has time to recover, he noted.
“Right now, we use that field two and a half days a week,” Oberembt said. “We could go to six days a week.”
New turf would mean the field would not be used only for games, but also for some practices, for kinetic wellness classes and, when the school isn’t using it, for community groups' activities.
The school board referred the idea to its finance committee, which will look at the costs of installing a synthetic field versus the benefits such a field would bring.
Going to synthetic turf would mean teams could play in rainy weather, and the school would more likely be able to host sectional and supersectional games in football, soccer and lacrosse. The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) schedules playoff games at schools with synthetic fields so they won’t have to be postponed due to rain, Oberembt said.
As of this year, half of the 12 schools in the Central Suburban League have synthetic turf fields. Two more, in addition to District 203, are considering making the change.
Oberembt also presented several studies that indicated injuries were no more likely and no more severe on synthetic turf than on natural grass. Some studies found fewer injuries happen on synthetic fields, he said.
“Under optimal conditions, it’s hard to beat a superior natural grass surface,” he said. “But that isn’t what a high school has to contend with.”
The installation cost of about $1.4 million would double if plans were expanded to include the larger practice field next to the stadium. Having both fields covered with synthetic turf would take some pressure off the district’s other grass fields, allowing them more recovery time and keeping them in better condition, Oberembt said.
Going to the new surface would also save on maintenance. A synthetic field would cost about $5,000 a year to maintain compared with as much as $50,000 spent for the stadium's grass upkeep, according to the physical plant director John Neiweem. Those savings should be enough to pay for the synthetic turf in 10 to 12 years, near the end of its useful life.
District 203 Superintendent Linda Yonke said that the New Trier Booster Club had offered to contribute $500,000 toward a synthetic turf field in the 2009-2010 school year, but that offer is no longer on the table. The district will approach the booster club to see if it is willing to contribute, she said.
Board member Peter Fischer suggested the district look into other fundraising possibilities, including selling the naming rights.
Yonke said the district has a policy against that, but there might be other ways to recognize donors.
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