SANDPOINT — Artificial turf, grass or a mixture of both? That is the question before Sandpoint officials in regards to War Memorial Field.
City officials hosted the first in a series of public workshops on the turf issue Wednesday where Tom Sherry, from SPVV Landscape Architects in Spokane, presented the pros, cons and costs of three options — high performance natural turf, artificial turf or a combination of the two.
"Any one of these is going to be better than what you've got right now," Sherry said. "They are going to provide much better playability surface for your athletes and for your public."
Memorial Field gets an average of 750 hours of use per year between the Festival at Sandpoint, events such as weddings and graduation, and sporting events, including football, soccer, baseball and lacrosse. The biggest issue, Sherry said, is when it comes time for football in the fall. Following the Festival in August, there is not enough time for the field, as it is now, to recover.
"It's not that it is being overplayed, it's that the field looks OK for turf grass, but it's not OK for sports turf," Sherry said. "When you get rain events like we've got going on now, you couldn't get a baseball team out there and have them play, they'd tear it up. The same thing is happening in the fall."
The high performance natural turf option would include a subsurface drainage system, as well as a filtration system for nutrients from fertilizers, which currently drain directly into the Pend Oreille River. The artificial turf is made from a natural cork product and would still include a subsurface drainage system, although it does not need a filtration system, since no fertilizer is used on artificial turf. The combination of artificial and natural would consist mainly of natural grass throughout the field, but the baseball infield would be artificial.
Artificial turf would allow year-round use of the field, Sherry said. Even the snow could be removed for use in the winter. The combination would greatly extend use for baseball and other sports, but even the all-natural would extend use of the field to late fall and early spring, because the main issue at this time is the poor drainage.
Natural turf is the least expensive option to install and maintain. The cost of installation is $1,041,210 with a per-year maintenance cost of $194,043. Combined turf is in the mid-range at $1,170,335 with a $203,367 annual cost. Artificial turf is the most expensive option, with installation estimated at $1,314,389 and a $241,825 annual cost, though the annual cost is broken down from a 12-year replacement. The actual maintenance cost after the purchase of specialized equipment is much lower each year, but the turf is estimated to need replacement every 10-12 years.
For local athletic programs, such as Sandpoint High School sports, artificial turf is the preferred option. Kris Knowles, SHS athletic director, also served on the committee that has gathered information and looked at the different options over the past six months.
"I am very familiar with all the options, so I think, at the end of the day, my number-one goal is to make sure all user groups can find a happy medium," Knowles said. "But as far as the perspective of our groups — baseball, football, soccer — we are in favor of an artificial surface. Not because of anything other than creating virtual guaranteed playability.
"We’ve seen injuries on that playing surface at Memorial because it just never comes back after the music festival, which is awesome and we all enjoy it, but (the field) never comes back. It’s a dangerous playing surface because it just gets really tampered down. So for us, it’s the safety of it, the guaranteed playability of it, and potentially being able to attract a state event."
The Festival, though, would not be able to exist at Memorial Field with an artificial surface, said Dyno Wahl, Festival executive director. The two-week Festival provided the city with about $16,000 in revenue last year, she said, because the city charges a fee for each ticket sold.
"For me, I went into these committee meetings very open-minded to determine whether the Festival could, in fact, exist at Memorial Field with artificial turf," Wahl said. "And what we determined, because of the intricacy of our anchoring systems for our tents and the temperature of the field, that it would be impossible for us to be there."
Permanent anchors for the large tents could be placed under the artificial turf that could be uncovered and used each year, but there would still be an issue for many of the smaller tents that move around. As far as the temperature, on a 100-degree day, Sherry said, natural turf would likely be 96 degrees — artificial turf would be 26-degrees hotter. With the Festival in August, it could cause discomfort for vendors, artists and patrons, though Sherry said it does cool down quickly.
Wahl said the natural, or even the combination turf, would be a "win win" because it would still provide extended use for athletics and other events, and the Festival would remain in place.
Neighbors like Iris Harrison also would like to see a natural turf replace the current field.
"It's going to get so much more playability than we have now — It's a neighborhood city park," Harrison said.
City administrator Jennifer Stapleton said this was the first in a series of public workshops before a final decision is made by City Council. The next workshop, she said, will likely be in about three weeks, about the same time the city will have an online public commenting system set up.
"Ideally, we are hoping to take this to council sometime this summer," Stapleton said. "We have some flexibility around this to come up with the best solution."
While the turf is not scheduled to be replaced until next year, the new grandstands at Memorial Field are going up and were originally scheduled for completion by June. But Kim Woodruff, city parks and recreation director, said the workers have run into some weather-related issues that have set back the construction time.
"We are still shooting to have graduation there, which would be really herculean on the part of the construction company to pull it off when you understand how wet it's truly been," Woodruff said. "So we will make that decision with the school district at the end of the month ... probably the grandstands won't be 100 percent complete at that time, but what we are looking at is to get people in the seats so we can go ahead and christen it and welcome that new stadium to our community."
The Memorial Field project is funded through a 1-percent, voter-approved local option tax, which sunsets after five years. Over the course of 13 months, from January 2016 through February 2017, Stapleton said the city has collected $1.4 million.
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