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City Discusses Artifical Turf

Artificial surfaces may address field shortages

Alexandria city officials are planning on introducing artificial turf fields to the city's parks in order to address overuse of the city's playing fields.

"I think we've decided it's a tool we want in our tool box," said Roger Blakeley about artificial fields. Blakeley is the deputy director of the Alexandria Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities.

Use of the city's sports fields is currently three or four times the recommended level, Blakely told members of the public at a June 22 meeting about artifical turf.

"This is the best example of an excessive use, excessive traffic situation I've ever seen," said James Brosnan, a Penn State University graduate student who specializes in athletic fields, about Alexandria's Four Mile Run Park soccer field. The field has lost most of its grass and has compounded soil.

To address the excessive use of the city's fields, the city formed a Parks Operation Synthetic Turf Work Group in the summer of 2005 to look into using synthetic turf , Blakeley said.

An Athletic Field Master Plan currently in draft form indicates that the city is short 38 to 45 athletic fields for a city its size, Blakeley said.

However, "we're in Alexandria—we're not going to get any more property unless we spend lots and lots of money," Blakeley said.

Given this situation, Blakeley's department is looking into ways of addressing the city's residents' needs for athletic fields. The city is looking into locating fields on top of parking garages and apartment complexes, Blakeley said. But it is most interested in introducing synthetic fields at existing parks, he said.

Whereas several officials said that natural grass fields can only support a limited amount of play per season, artificial fields can support virtually unlimited play.

Arlington has found that the amount of play on its artificial fields introduced over the last three to five years has been five times that on its natural fields, said Robin Leonard, facilities unit coordinator for the Arlington County Recreation, Parks and Cultural Resources Sports Division. "If you can get (artificial turf), it's the best thing in the world, Leonard said.

It would probably cost $6-800,000 to install a synthetic field in Alexandria, Blakeley said. However, as compared to a natural field, use of a synthetic field can be greater and maintenance costs lower on an annual basis, he continued. If a synthetic field lasts eight years it will be cheaper than continuing with the existing natural field, he said. Blakeley said he was aware of artificial fields that had lasted longer than eight years.

Furthermore, Blakeley said only the artificial carpet would have to ultimately be replaced and not the artificial substrate underneath the carpet. Replacing the carpet is significantly cheaper than is building an artificial field from scratch, he said.

At the June 22 meeting, Kirk Kincannon, director of the Alexandria Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities, named the Alexandria fields with renovation priority as: Minnie Howard School, Fort Ward Multipurpose, Francis C. Hammond Middle School, Four Mile Run Multipurpose, Braddock, Jefferson-Houston School and John Adams Elementary School fields. Kincannon said Minnie Howard had top priority and would probably be renovated in the summer of 2007.

The city is planning to replace the entire Minnie Howard field, including both the soft ball and multipurpose fields, with an artificial turf field, Blakeley said. While the city council would ultimately have to approve this, the money for the work is already in the city's capital improvement plan, Blakeley said.

The city may renovate all these fields slated for renovation by replacing them with artificial fields, Blakeley said after the meeting. Episcopal High School, Bishop Ireton High School and St.Stephen and St. Agnes School all either have articial fields or have them under construction, Blakeley said.

Brosnan said while there were many advantages to artificial fields, there are also some potential problems. Among these are that the surfaces can be 40 or more degrees hotter than air temperature during the summer, some players may have allergies to the rubber used on the field, and these fields may lead to a higher incidence of staph infections for its players.

The field's problem with hot surfaces can be addressed with water irrigation of the fields, Brosnan said. However, this increases the humidity above the field, he said.

The recreation department is moving in the right direction with using artificial turf, Mike Nielson, past president of Alexandria Little League, told the Alexandria Parks and Recreation Commission. The city also needs more fields, he said.

Kerry Donley, athletic director for T.C. Williams High School, agreed.

The high school's field use is so great that "in some cases we can't even get grass to grow," Donley said. If the city had some artificial turf fields, programs could use these and let the natural turf fields rest and regenerate, Donley said.

"As far as we're concerned, it can't happen fast enough," Donley said.