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The Green, Green 'Grass' of Home

The Belmont Parks and Recreation Commission will discuss replacing the grass at the Belmont Sports Complex with synthetic turf at Wednesday's meeting.

As more and more cities around the Peninsula replace grass athletic fields with synthetic turf, the City of Belmont is considering following suit by installing the ever-green, no-watering-needed material at the Belmont Sports Complex.

The proposed project includes the installation of synthetic turf on the four-acre North Field and potentially the South Field.

The matter will be discussed tonight at the monthly meeting of the Belmont Parks and Recreation Commission. City staff has recommended the discussion based on extensive research and evaluation of turf projects throughout the Bay Area. 

According to a city staff report, the advantages to synthetic over natural turf are:

  • Turf fields have significantly less operating costs because of reduced maintenance labor and material to maintain
  • The new synthetic turf fields increase by 40% to 60% the amount of playable hours
  • Synthetic turf fields do not have to be closed for long periods of maintenance and rehabilitation, and rarely have to be closed due to rainy weather
  • They do not require the imposition of a ceiling on playable hours in order to protect the quality of the field.
  • The flatness and uniformity of the new synthetic turf fields produce venues that provide better and safer recreational opportunities for soccer, baseball, softball and other sports

The firm of Callander Associates Landscape Architecture, Inc. was selected for the project, and entered into a Professional Services Agreement with the City in June 2011.

Tonight's agenda item is for discussion only, no vote will be taken. But if you'd like to be a part of the discussion, come on down to the Parks and Recreation Commission meeting at 7:00 p.m. in the City Council Chambers of Belmont City Hall, One Twin Pines Lane.

For more information, click here.

Member September 05, 2012 at 04:14 PM
I was reading the Staff Report about the Belmont Sports Complex Synthetic Turf Project. Could somebody help me understand why the project committee is at an impasse and no option has been selected for over a year? The report can be found at http://www.belmont.gov/Upload/Document/D240008638/PRC09052012VB.pdf
Joan S. Dentler (Editor) September 05, 2012 at 04:34 PM
Thank you for adding the link to the staff report member. As a reminder, Parks and Rec Commission meetings are broadcast live on Comcast Channel 27, or can be streamed via the city's website www.belmont.gov
Yasemin B. September 05, 2012 at 05:13 PM
I'm always a bit sceptic when there are merely 'pros' listed for any issue. It gives the impression of a 'sales' pitch, doesn't it? Hopefully the 'cons' for plastic turf will be discussed tonight, too (easily 'green' ones come to mind i.e. carbon footprint/carbon offset, temperature, hygiene) otherwise it would be a waste of time...
Kevin Sullivan September 05, 2012 at 05:42 PM
The public process is not always easy as I'm sure you are all aware. The whole idea is everyone is allowed a voice so the process takes time and there are often differences of opinions, goals and personal agendas. The public process does not work like the private process, that gets frustrating for some, but it's designed to ensure decisions are made in public and with some form of consensus. It is not as easy as sending well crafted notes on a comments page. Making public decisions takes work. The minutes of the meetings are available. The staff report is on the city website. The meeting is public and everyone is welcome to come and get informed. This is actually an example of how our Democracy is supposed to work - we make information available, we let everyone discuss it, then we attempt to make decisions in the view of the public. Its a small town and often few people come to meetings that make big differences. I invite anyone who posts comments here to come to the meeting or watch on TV and then get involved in the process. These are decisions that will likely affect you if you live in Belmont.
Joan S. Dentler (Editor) September 05, 2012 at 06:38 PM
Well said Kevin....thanks for your comment. It underscores the importance of community outreach and input from concerned residents and businesses. And again, anyone who can't attend a meeting, can watch it live on Channel 27, or stream it from www.belmont.gov
Mike Swire September 05, 2012 at 09:41 PM
Hi Joan, can you follow up with Parks & Rec. to identify the sources for their claims that operating costs are significantly lower, playing time may increase by up to 60%, injuries will fall, and quality of play will increase? Are these based on the SF study mentioned in the staff report, or are they based on actual findings for cities that have installed artificial turf? The following article from the University of Arkansas Division of Ag (unbiased?) suggests that many of these claims are not true: http://turf.uark.edu/turfhelp/archives/021109.html. The article also raises the issues of high disposal costs, increased likelihood of infections, unsafe playing temperatures on hot days, and environmental concerns. These were not covered in the staff report. Thanks.
Steve Hayes September 05, 2012 at 10:04 PM
Mike Most of the downside issues discussed in the article you referenced have to do with heat - heat is not a problem at the Sports Complex or anywhere else in Belmont. The author went on to write - "I don’t dispute that there are certain situations in which an artificial field might be an appropriate choice and I don’t disregard a coach’s preference. We also do not dispute that an artificial field could host more events each year, which could be beneficial in certain situations." Our problem is that we have limited areas for fields and we do not have enough fields. That deficiency can be rectified by increasing utilization, which is exactly what Turf offers.
Mike Swire September 05, 2012 at 11:48 PM
Yes, Steve, everyone wants more field capacity. Before we spend $3 million on this project, however, we should have a realistic understanding of the costs, benefits, and negatives. The article mentions nine negatives/myths related to artificial turf. Only one has to do with heat. Here is another study by the City of San Diego. It shows that over 20 years, artificial turf costs almost $2.6 million more than natural grass. Per participant hour of use, artificial turf is 70% more expensive than natural grass. http://www.sandiego.gov/park-and-recreation/pdf/110303item501b.pdf
Joan S. Dentler (Editor) September 06, 2012 at 12:46 AM
Mike, I'm going to lob that question over to Jonathan Gervais, p&r director and the commission.
Steve Hayes September 06, 2012 at 01:33 AM
I agree that they need a cost benefit analysis - the keys will be how much more use will they get (San Diego only assumed a 25% increase) and how often will they need to replace the turf.
Bill Doheny September 06, 2012 at 02:56 AM
Hi Everyone; Let me offer the perspective of a parent who has had a child playing youth club soccer for the past 5 years. In my search for places to keep him challenged, I have found that the neighboring communities have more to offer compared to Belmont. This includes the fields available to the local youth clubs and the involvement of the local government with the youth programs. There is tremendous support of the local governments with the youth sports clubs and the facilities that they use. As a long-time resident of Belmont, I find it disheartening that we cannot create the same type of community support for our local youth sports, but rather choose to argue the nuances of each new proposal before the city council. While I understand this is democracy at work, other communities find a way to get things done. For reference, please visit Foster City which will very soon have 4 public parks with turf fields available to their local youth sports programs (which are thriving by the way). As to the use of these fields, I have sat in the car and watched my son practice many times in the pouring rain (his coach is from Ireland where he claims the weather is much worse). Take care; Bill Doheny
Steve Hayes September 06, 2012 at 04:50 PM
Based on meeting last night regarding Turf at Belmont Sports Complex Cost Benefit Belmont has a cost benefit analysis that shows the City would save roughly $800K by adding Turf (over a 10 year period). The study needs to be updated in several ways – to reflect minor turf cost adjustments, to reflect the final field configuration (still undecided), maintenance costs need to be recalculated (the current annual Turf maintenance assumption seems much too low) and the time horizon needs to be adjusted from 10 years to at least 20 years to take in account the reTurfing costs which will happen every 10 years. Once those adjustments are made I would guess the costs of both alternatives (grass versus Turf) would be about the same – no savings either way. However, the opportunity for utilization would go up substantially with Turfing. A key assumption is that both alternatives (natural grass vs. Turf) will require the same costly redevelopment of the underlying drainage systems to eliminate the seepage of water into the landfill underneath the field.
Steve Hayes September 06, 2012 at 04:51 PM
Field Configuration Choices Everyone agreed that Turfing was a good idea, but there was little agreement on the configuration of the North field (the big field) – the choices are A2 or B1 (see the analysis Member posted above). Soccer people want to Turf everything (A2) except the baseball batters box and the pitchers mound (both would remain clay). The baseball people prefer B1, which would retain the natural grass and dirt infield along with a permanent pitchers mound. The arguments are- Baseball needs a real pitchers mound most of the year (Spring/Summer and Fall ball. Sliding into bases on Turf would cause too many injuries and sliding on Turf is less predictable (hard to judge the slide length on turf). The natural grass infield slows down the ball making it easier and less dangerous to field ground ball. Turf has a hard base and the ball would not lose any speed as it passes through the infield – not good if you consider a 13 year old trying the field a ball batted by a much larger 15 year old. As I see it the baseball choice would reduce the opportunity for U19 soccer play. However, there are new U19 fields at Notre Dame and Carlmont and possibly at the CSUS proposed site – all having artificial turf. Even though more kids play soccer I think we should retain the natural baseball infield – the only City baseball field. B1 is the best choice - a perfectly reasonable compromise. The Commission made no final decision about the configuration last night.
Steve Hayes September 06, 2012 at 04:52 PM
City Needs to Bank Operating Savings Turfing will reduce the annual operating costs – water and maintenance. However it will be important for the City to retain (bank) most of the savings to help pay for the returfing that will happen about every 10 years. It would not be prudent to use the money for something else.
Belmont September 06, 2012 at 05:03 PM
Steve, I agree with you. We need to retain the natural grass and dirt infield and pitchers mound. My son is playing fall baseball down at the BSC and the field is amazing! For those who have not been down there lately, the playing fields are extremely crowded right now with soccer and baseball practices occurring well until 7:30 pm at night....I was there this past Tuesday night and there were still people there at 8 pm.
Mike Swire September 06, 2012 at 10:21 PM
Thanks for the update, Steve. When you say that the costs of both alternatives would be about the same, are you including only operating costs or is the initial installation cost in there, too? If the former, what is the net increase in 20-year cost including installation?
Steve Hayes September 07, 2012 at 12:56 AM
Mike The 10 year analysis included the installation costs as well as the operating costs. Of course the 10 year horizon turf savings ($800K) would be more than offset by the necessary returf at the end of year 10 but the net cost increase (returf would cost more than $800K) would then be be offset by the years 11-20 operating cost savings. The real purpose of the meeting was to get reenergize the process and the focus was on selecting the optimal field configuration. Only a couple of minutes were spent on cost and benefits out of a discussion lasting more than an hour.

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