The synthetic turf at Arlington High's Peirce Field, bearing the abuse of student cleats in various sports since 2006, is wearing out and may be reaching the end of its useful life.

So the School Department has resubmitted its capital request for replacing the field covering, at an estimated cost $500,000.

Field Turf explainer / Source: Tarkett Co.
"Peirce Turf remains in compliance."-- Melissa Dlugolecki, AHS director of athletics

Routine testing in early September by Turf Prep of Woburn resulted in a report late that month showing a passing grade, but indicating the surface was "quickly approaching" the point where it needed to be replaced, Melissa Dlugolecki, AHS director of athletics, told the School Committee on Dec. 4.

"We are right there pushing that [failing number]," she said.

Asked by YourArlington why test results were not reported until December, Dlugolecki said the issue was raised this month because the School Committee was hearing about budget issues, and this is a significant one.

Asked in a follow-up email whether students playing fall sports -- football and soccer -- faced safety issues on the worn turf, she wrote Dec. 11: "Based on recent testing, Peirce Turf remains in compliance with the safety guidelines established by the Synthetic Turf Council. Results indicate that the surface needs replacing shortly to remain within their guidelines. Subsequently, the high school increased the plan of care for the turf field to support longevity of use."

With the news this week that the state will not consider for a year helping to pay for the rebuilding of Arlington High School, school and town leaders have to consider replacing Peirce Field's turf.

The town's Capital Planning Committee had put the matter on hold in the light of work expected in the next few years on Arlington High, but that work is now one year later.

Charlie Foskett, the planning committee chairman, wrote Monday, Dec. 15:Peirce Field issue request in '13:

School Committee logo

"The School Department brought up the remediation of Peirce Field as a capital request in the fall of 2013. The Department also announced the submission of a Statement of Interest (SoI) to the MSBA to rebuild/renovate AHS.

"Several scenarios for the logistics of rebuilding AHS were discussed, some of which involved either building new on all or parts of Peirce Field, or the impact of AHS renovation efforts on the field if the field would be used as a staging area.

"In those cases, any capital investment in the field would be lost. Since the replacement of the field is a large capital expense, after consultation with School Department CFO Diane Johnson, the Capital Planning Committee determined that a prudent path would be for the School Department to work on maintaining the field on an interim basis until the status of the SOI was determined.

"The Town recently received a letter from the MSBA that the submitted SOI would not be acted upon this year, so the School Department is resubmitting its capital request for replacing the field.

Foskett noted that his committee has not yet acted on the request, "as its deliberations are still in process.

"As we understand it, the School Department still intends to seek renovating or rebuilding of AHS, although the timing is less certain; the impact of these plans on the field still have to be considered."

Could be reinstalled over the summer

School budget logo "The stuff wears out, just like anything else. I am not surprised at the cost."
      -- John Maher, former town counsel


Asked about the turf issue, Cindy Starks, chair of the School Committee's Budget Subcommittee, responded Dec. 5: "I am not sure how that will be funded or where in the budget it belongs.

"It would be my intention to get it to come out of the capital budget .... So this is still in discussion."

If the capital item wins budget approval, the turf could be reinstalled "over the summer," Dlugolecki said in telephone interview Dec. 8.

Asked in a follow-up email what would happen if the turf is not budgeted, the athletics director wrote: "We will still play on it, but [the issue] will have to be evaluated it at the time."

At the Dec. 4 meeting, School Committee member Jud Peirce asked whether grass could be considered.

CFO Johnson told the committee that night the field is built over remediated waste site and that waste could seep through.

The next day, she expanded and clarified: "The site of Peirce field has environmental issues. We cannot dig without disturbing the mitigation that was put in place previously. I am not an expert, so my off-the-cuff comment about toxicity if we were to replace grass should be taken with a grain of salt.

"I do know that digging on that site is problematic, and we would certainly have to dig in order to install a grass field.

"Any field with heavy use has problems maintaining healthy grass. And the Peirce Field is used heavily. Grass would be difficult to maintain in good condition."

Failing score: 175

To the committee Dec. 4, Dlugolecki said it would be "more cost-efficient to have turf."

As to the testing, under Turf Prep's grading system, a field scoring 175 would fail. Dlugolecki said she the test results included a map of the field, reflecting varying grades of wear across the field. In essence, the fibers harden as they age.

The grades for the wear at Peirce range between 130 and 160, she said. (The higher the score, the worse the grade.)

Peirce uses FieldTurf. Two fibers showing differing hues of green on the map illustrate how each fiber has worn differently, she told the School Committee. "You can see them every five yards," she said.

When turf is first installed and for a long time thereafter, the fibers remain strong. They have a "nice give," she said. In time, that lessens. The current turf: "significantly hard."

On Dec. 11, she offered to provide the map to be photographed. Asked five days later, she wrote that the "report is still being reviewed by the administrative team at this time so it isn't ready to be released to the public."

The Turf Prep site includes this testimonial about Peirce from Dlugolecki:

"The yearly maintenance plan from Turf Prep dramatically improved our turf, extending the longevity of its usability. Not only has the regular cleaning and decompaction provided a safer surface, Turf Prep has repaired small and large tears, repainted our school logo, provided field expectation signage and assisted with drainage problems encountered. The G-Max testing was done quickly and professionally yielding a great resource as we assess our capital improvement plans. We have been very pleased with the dynamic services offered and the high quality of work performed."

Turf's age at issue

Other questions remain. A key one is: How old is the turf?

A number of officials questioned estimated it to be from 10 to 12 years old.

But a check of public documents narrowed it down to 2006.

The Feb. 10, 2004, minutes of the Park & Recreation Commission show that body's support for artificial turf, which had not yet been installed.

Of Peirce Field, the town's 2005 Annual Report notes, "... we began the remediation of a 100-year-old soil contamination problem. When completed, we will have another first class, 'state of the art,' recreational facility that will include two new ball fields, new basketball courts, and an artificial turf football and soccer field, at a minimal cost to the taxpayer."

The 2006 Annual Report refers to a completed field.

The question of when the turf was installed is important to learn. The School Committee was told it has a 10-year life, but it has been on the ground eight-plus years.

Typically warranted at 8 years

According to the nonprofit Synthetic Turf Council, such sports fields are "typically warranted for eight years, but their life expectancy will depend to a great extent on the amount and type of usage and the maintenance it receives. When it comes to landscape applications, synthetic turf can last much longer than fields."

A town official praised in the 2005 report for his help in negotiating the deal that led to the field is John Maher, the former town counsel.

Asked about the cost of the turf, he wrote Dec. 5 that he did "not remember the actual cost since it was part of a larger package of athletic field improvements which were estimated at the time to be about one million dollars. The cost was borne by the industrial parties involved, which was National Grid and what was then Boston Gas.

"I don't remember the year. There should be records in the Supt's office on this."

Superintendent Kathleen Bodie was asked Dec. 12 for background information about the turf, including when it was installed, who installed it and whether there is a warranty. She said she would ask those in her office to check, but her office not responded to a follow-up query. (Once there is a response, this story will be updated.)

Maher, who was Arlington's town counsel from 1974 to 2008, and whose tenure included the initial discovery of toxic waste under a soccer field behind Stop & Shop, has the last word here.

Of the turf, he wrote,"The stuff wears out, just like anything else. I am not surprised at the cost."

This story was published Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014.