Grass fields can handle the use

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To the Editor:

An open letter to the MVRHS Committee:
Recently several of your members referenced a 2019 report, prepared for the MVRHS by Synthetic Turf Council member Chris Huntress, to argue for even more playing fields (bringing the total to eight multipurpose fields, more than many universities!) — or as a justification to continue to pursue a plastic field through litigation. 

According to the Huntress report, if all six of the proposed multipurpose fields are grass, each would need to support 583 hours of use annually to meet the needs of the MVRHS and the youth sports currently held there. 583 is well below the upper limit Huntress claims a well-maintained natural grass field in this region can support (680). The conversation could have — and should have — stopped there. By his own standards, we did NOT, and do not, need a plastic field.1 

It is also important to understand that limits for grass fields put forth by consultants are arbitrary2 and underestimated.3 It is part of a playbook, used by the Synthetic Turf Council and its members to justify the recommendation to install plastic fields, rather than simply better maintaining grass fields. 

Indeed, we often see consultants modify the usage limits so that whatever community, regardless of how large or small the population, “needs” at least one plastic field. Weston & Sampson’s recent Master Plan for the Nantucket Parks and Recreation Department states, “Industry field and turf professionals recommend limiting field event scheduling to 25 to 50 events (100 to 250 hours) of use per year.”4 Acknowledging this is unrealistic, they recommend limiting them to 250 to 300 hours of use per season, and predictably, recommend another plastic field for Nantucket.5 

In addition to downplaying the amount of use grass fields can handle, the Huntress report inflates the usage of the multipurpose fields, both in the number of annual events per field and in the hours of use per field. According to Richard Bennett’s analysis, Huntress overestimates the number of current uses by over 200. And Huntress assumes that all uses are 2.5 hours long, even though some events are only one hour.6, 7 

The fact is, the MVRHS’ proposed layout, executed with well-designed, properly maintained natural grass fields, will have plenty of acreage to support demand. There is no real need for any plastic fields, nor two additional grass fields. We are watching the industry playbook play out before our eyes, crafted by those who stand to gain financially by each of these decisions, championed by our public schools, and funded by our tax dollars. 

 

Mollie Doyle, Dardanella Slavin, Rebekah Thomson
The Field Fund 

 

1 mvrhs.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/MVRHS-MasterPlan-Report-020419.pdf

2 Although he attributed them to the Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA), a representative from the organization did not back up Huntress’ claims about grass field limits. She wrote to the MVC, “I do not have a concrete answer for how much wear or the number of hours of play a field can withstand. It varies greatly depending on the sport being played, athlete size, number of athletes, climate, turfgrass species, rootzone, etc.” (See: 

mvcommission.org/sites/default/files/docs/Kristen%20Althouse%20%28STMA%29%20email%2011-5-20.pdf

3 https://www.turi.org/content/download/12156/190509/file/Natural+Grass+Playing+Field+Case+Study+Springfield+MA.+June+2019.pdf 

4 The Weston & Sampson Master Plan for Nantucket states that their ideal usage limit comes from the STMA as well. They write, “The list below outlines some of the ideal recommendations of turf professionals (Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA) and Turf Magazine, and various Universities) regarding the use and maintenance of the athletic fields.” Again, the STMA told the MVC they don’t have concrete answers for how many hours a field can withstand. 

5 nantucket-ma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/29381/Parks-and-Recreation-Master-Plan—Final-Report-2020-PDF 

6 mvcommission.org/sites/default/files/docs/Richard%20Bennett%20email%20March%204%202020.pdf 

mvcommission.org/sites/default/files/docs/DRI%20352-M4%20MVRHS%20Athletic%20Fields%20Correspondence%20Richard%20Bennett%202021-01-14%20with%20attachments.pdf