April 30, 2015 • Football

Grant helps Washington school install turf

Grass playing fields in the rainy northwest can have disastrous results, and that’s something Tom Roys understands all too well.

Less than one year ago Arlington High School (Washington) became one of the region’s last schools to switch to turf, so the memories of the “mud swamp” that once stood as its football field are still fresh in everyone’s minds.

Roys, the school’s athletic director, remembers those days, but he prefers to talk about the present. The turf field that now graces the stadium has made the lives of his staff and athletes much better.

Arlington High School turf“I think we actually had district playoff games that we couldn’t play at home because of the condition of our field,” said Roys, reflecting on the sand-based surface that was installed 11 years ago.

“In talking with our school board and superintendent, they thought it was time for us to pony up. We went from the natural grass field to the turf, and it’s been absolutely amazing.”

In Arlington, days with rainfall nearly equal days with sunshine. The city sees annual rainfall 10 inches above the national average, so it’s critical that schools have the infrastructure in place to keep their athletic facilities in top condition.

Roys said the sand-based field held up for many years, but an impermeable layer formed and the field didn’t drain in the way it should have. Bringing a turf field to Arlington has been one of his major agenda items over the last six years, but budgetary cuts put the project on the back burner. Everyone in the district knew it would have to be addressed at some point, and in 2014 the program finally had its opportunity.

Arlington didn’t have to “pony up” in the way most schools might. A $200,000 grant from the NFL helped fund the $1 million project.

“The stars just aligned for us, because it was the year that the Seahawks won the Super Bowl, and I certainly don’t think that hurt us,” Roys said about the school’s pursuit of the grant. “We’re also in the area where they had the Oso mudslide, and I think that was something that didn’t hurt us either. We also put together a great proposal.”

Some athletic directors are loyal to natural grass, but Roys said the transition to turf was an easy decision. The grass field would get so saturated with water that teams didn’t practice on it to avoid damaging it before the next game. The football team would practice at the baseball field, while physical education classes also weren’t permitted on the main field.

“We get to November and our field is just trashed,” Roys said. “It just takes one heavy rain and contest, whether it’s football or soccer, and your field is toast.”

That’s not the case anymore. If anything, Roys has to juggle the many teams that want access to the new turf field.

Last fall, the football team played its first season on the new surface, and Roys said the results were as good as he could have imagined. The field drained well, teams could practice and life in general became easier for everyone, including the maintenance staff. Now that they didn’t have to spend time drawing lines on the field, they’re available to tackle other jobs around the school.

The process of installing the new field was painless. Roys said contractors started the job in June 2014 and took only about six weeks. Because it took place during the summer, there was no need to relocate teams or tinker with schedules to accommodate the project.

Nearly all of the money went toward the field itself, as the drainage system in place beneath the grass field met the requirements to adequately protect the turf.

One feature that is a bit unique to Arlington High School is the shot-put area, which will use a half-inch rubber matting as opposed to the traditional cinder. Roys was concerned athletes would track the cinder on to the field and damage it.

“It’s just something we thought might work,” Roys said. “We have a different color (mat) for the shot put that looks like cinder. It’s just like they would do for baseball that makes it look like the infield. I really like it, it’s clean and we’ll see what happens this spring.”

The improvements are finished for now, but Roys admits that eventually he’d like to take a closer look at getting turf at the baseball field. Infield turf for baseball programs is becoming more popular, especially for schools in parts of the country where the climate or weather makes it difficult to maintain grass.

Roys said turf at the baseball field would help the program avoid some rainouts. He also wouldn’t mind getting turf at one of the school’s practice fields.

That may come later, and when it does Roys expects to be better prepared to face the process that accompanies any facility project. While getting the turf field came with almost no hiccups, he gained a greater respect for the value of communication.

Roys was hoping to get on-the-field water connections so the athletes could hydrate, but contractors didn’t understand. He said they tied it into the irrigation system, so there is no backflow and the water isn’t potable.

“It’s still great because you can take the water out there to clean the bleachers and all other types of things, but what I was going for was having something out there where the athletes can drink,” he said. “Just make sure that you really talk about the details with your contractor to really get what you want.”

Nonetheless, the field is popular with students, athletes and coaches. When the football team played its first game, the school opened with a tribute to the Oso mudslide victims and emergency response personnel.

“It was a crazy night,” Roys said.

“We’re just excited that we have this (field). It’s everything that we hoped for.”

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