Breaking new ground

School ponders turf field

Varsity soccer player Emmanuel Bautista-Dizon was set up for the easy pass. He was about to trap the ball when it bounced sharply upward off the lip of a gopher hole. The consequence: well, let’s just say that he hurt more than his pride in not being able to play the ball.

Not only has Bautista-Dizon hurt his manhood because of the holes, he has also twisted his ankle several times stepping in them.

The only good thing about the school’s extremely broken down fields, he said, is that Rio players can use them to their advantage against opposing teams.

“It’s so bad that it messes up our opponent and gives us the advantage since we know what to expect,” Bautista-Dizon said.

Soccer coach William Taylor and the Athletic Department have been to trying to acquire funds from the district to improve them. The money would come from a $350 million school facilities bond that will provide funding to maintain and improve every school in the San Juan Unified District, called Measure N.  However, it has not been easy to receive the money necessary for the much needed renovations.

“If there is money allocated to improve school structure, then there will be competition between schools and the schools’ departments as to where the money should be spent first,” Taylor said. “The athletic fields are so run down that maybe they’ll finally be improved.”

If the athletic department receives the funds the top priority would be renovating the locker rooms and hall outside the gyms.

Coaches, athletes and boosters also advocate fixing the soccer, baseball, softball, and football fields by installing a turf surface, which will get rid of the gophers and eliminate the need to water the grass. When field sports are not in season, the school could rent out the fields to club teams, which could generate extra money for the department.

Varsity soccer player Ahmadu Barrie, after playing on what he calls the league’s worst soccer field for his whole high school career, also believes that the team deserves this much needed improvement because of the success they have the past few years.

Artificial turf is expensive, but advocates say it could save money in long run.

The company Polyturf estimates the initial cost to install synthetic turf for 78,000 square feet (suitable for soccer as well as football) to be $375,000. On the company website, it estimates the full cost to install a porous dynamic base to be $200,000.

The company estimates that a field could be used for more than 700 games and practices a year, with annual maintenance cost of $3,500. The 20 year cost, including replacing the turf after 10 years, would be just over $1 million.

Recent news articles on schools that have installed artificial turf put the initial price at closer to $900,000 per field.

Savings come from reduced maintenance, fertilizing and watering costs and being able to schedule far more events, the company says.

But John Sorochan, co-director of the Center for Athletic Field Safety at the University of Tennessee, says that artificial turf has not been shown to be cheaper over time. Companies overestimate the cost of maintaining grass, he has written.

And while renting out the field could offset costs, increased usage would also wear out the turf more quickly.

Still, for players like Bautista-Dizon and Barrie, who have endured the hazards of gopher holes, breathed dust clouds on hot summer days or waded through puddles in front of the goal on rainy days, the turf is worth it. Athletes are hoping for the renovations to not only make playing home games more enjoyable, but to also make it safer.

Barrie only wishes it could have come sooner, because he and other seniors who will be graduating will not play on the field, even if it is installed.

“Hopefully, future generations will appreciate the field and continue to be successful,” Barrie said.