With the addition of new artificial grass playing surfaces at SMC’s Corsair Field and John Adams Middle School, Santa Monica is increasingly becoming the city where real surf meets synthetic turf. Leading the way, Crossroads School installed a state-of-the-art synthetic soccer field in 2001. Then a few years ago, the City chose synthetic turf for its community soccer field at the new Airport Park – an extremely popular venue that hosts youth and adult soccer league games seven days a week.
By most accounts, athletes love the new fields. Long gone are the early days of “Astro Turf” – little more than coarse cropped harsh plastic carpet laid on rock-hard concrete. According to Darren Gill of the Canadian company FieldTurf, suppliers of the SMC and John Adams projects, the new “grass” is laid on a four-inch base of gravel topped with a one inch layer of resilient synthetic rubber particles ground from car tires. The turf itself has a water permeable backing that enables good drainage, and the fake grass is about an inch in length and soft to the touch. The overall effect is an all-weather soft yet durable playing surface friendly to the feet. While safety statistics are not available, common sense suggests that synthetic fields are better cushions for falls, especially compared to worn, hardscrabble fields denuded of natural grass by heavy use.
Environmental and cost factors are primary drivers that favor installation of synthetic turf. According to Darren Gill, the typical 80,000 square foot synthetic soccer field saves 900,000 gallons of irrigation water annually. There is also no need for fertilizers or weed control chemicals. In addition, each field uses the recycled material from 20,000 car tires. Maintenance is minimal – the fields can be raked, swept or even vacuumed as needed. FieldTurf is also guaranteed for eight years, and its estimated lifespan is twelve years under heavy sports use.
The John Adams Middle School installation at Ocean Park and 17th Street is especially impressive – a major renovation that upon completion will have a complete east-west soccer field, a second north-south field lined for both soccer and American football, and a sizable baseball outfield, all in synthetic turf. At 209,000 square feet, it is, according to Darren Gill, one of the largest synthetic turf installations in all of Southern California. In a unique inter-agency venture, SMC is funding the cost of the installation at John Adams using a portion of the $4.4 million Community College Bonds from Proposition 39. John Adams students will use the fields during school hours, SMC athletes will take to the fields during non-school hours, and community sports leagues will also have access to the new facilities. SMMUSD Superintendent Tim Cuneo notes of the John Adams project: “It is a nice way to partner with the community.”
What about homeowners and synthetic turf as an alternative to natural grass? One bugaboo is upfront cost. Residential installations can run from $12-$14 per square foot according to FieldTurf. But there are several positive economic outcomes to be realized over time, including reduced maintenance and water costs. According to the Santa Monica Offices of Sustainability and the Environment, 50-60 percent of residential water use is for landscaping. One factor to consider is that water costs will rise – the Santa Monica City Council has approved an approximately 60 percent water rate increase over the next three years. Different suppliers of synthetic turf can provide their own analyses, but the bottom line is that artificial turf can pay for itself over time.
To view a home with synthetic turf in the front yard, swing by 813 14th Street, just south of Montana Avenue. For more information, including possible financial assistance from the Metropolitan Water District, visit bewaterwise.com. The City’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment website, smepd.org, lists synthetic turf suppliers, and for additional information call Kim O’Cain, Santa Monica Water Resources Specialist, at 310.458.8459.