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Votes

Glazing Over the Grass

Agreement between schools, county could put a synthetic field at Wakefield High School.

AstroTurf it’s not, but the synthetic grass that may cover the field at Wakefield High School will be easy to clean in winter, advocates say: Just shovel it, and play.

At their Dec. 6 meeting, School Board members are set to vote on a Memorandum of Agreement with the county that would put synthetic grass on Wakefield’s football field, an installation intended as the first in a series of collaborations between schools and the county’s parks and recreation department.

Discussing the agreement on Nov. 20, School Board members betrayed some reservations. But overall, Board members, school staff and local sports enthusiasts supported synthetic grass fields at Wakefield.

Currently, Wakefield’s football, soccer and lacrosse teams use the fields, as do local soccer and football groups — but only when the field is useable. Following the winter snows and heavy spring rains, the field often flooded, a problem that would not run over onto synthetic fields, supporters say.

A synthetic grass field would be an improvement over the current Wakefield field, and would also open up more field space for county sports teams. “I think it’s win-win for everyone,” said Phil Keating, president of Arlington Travel Soccer League and parent of a Yorktown student, at the Nov. 20 meeting.

Members of the Wakefield community also welcome the development. “We’re eager to get the artificial turf,” said Sue Super, president of the Wakefield Booster Club. “Last year, we had so many problems with not being able to use the field. We’re ready.”

<b>CONCERNS ABOUT</b> the agreement did arise during School Board discussions on Nov. 20. Board member Elaine Furlow expressed some reservations that the schools could end up paying for a replacement field in another seven years, the projected life of synthetic grass.

In addition, Furlow questioned whether the schools would end up paying for utilities and maintenance on the fields during school vacations. The agreement states that the county would pay for trash pickup, field grooming and markings when school is out of session, and the schools would pay for that kind of maintenance, and water and electricity, when school is in session.

Left unanswered, Furlow said, is who pays for utilities when school is out of session, and who pays for for maintenance when the school is on winter break.

They’re serious concerns, she said, because the agreement for Wakefield’s field could serve as a template for other school sports fields - the county is hoping to cover 10 of its 125 sports fields with synthetic grass.

That means it’s important to get the Wakefield agreement right, said Furlow. “Here it is, perhaps leading us down the trail of financial obligation.”

<b>THOSE CONCERNS</b> aren’t an obstacle, said Brian Hannigan, a member of the county’s sports commission, who urged the School Board to approve the synthetic grass field.

“There are always details to be worked out,” he said. “But this project really exemplifies a new era of cooperation between the schools and the Parks and Recreation Department.”

There is some precedent for the replacement of Wakefield’s field. In autumn 2002, the county replaced one of the soccer fields at Gunston Middle School and Community Center (maintained by the county) with synthetic grass from AstroPlay.

The field is made up of a polyethylene fiber, a type of plastic, woven into a two-inch thick carpet. At Wakefield, a foam pad will lie under the woven fibers, and holes in the weave will allow water to drain from the field.

While AstroTurf of the 1970s also offered a grass field made from plastic, county staff and officials have stressed that current synthetic grass is two generations removed AstroTurf, and more closely mimics actual grass.

In fact, Wakefield athetes already have some experience playing on the synthetic grass. During the wet spring of 2003, said Sue Super, some of Wakefield’s teams had to move games to Gunston, and got used to playing on the surface there.

“We had been hoping to get the fields in place for spring,” she said. “We want the school system to look at what the most responsible arrangements are, but we’re eager. There have been so many problems with the fields, and they’re used by so many teams and sports groups.”