Can you spell T-U-R-F?

_CYSAmarillo’s Sam Houston Middle School, home of the Rangers, held classes for the first time as Sam Houston Junior High on January 3, 1931. The school opened with 200 students in a two story building with twenty classrooms, one hallway, an auditorium that seated 350, four restrooms and an office area. In 1939 the first renovation of the school took place adding one wing at the north and south ends of the original building. This renovation added 13 classrooms, a larger cafeteria, a band/choir hall, additional bathrooms, and a separate building for metal and woodworking. In 1959 another gym was added. In 1988 Sam Houston changed from a junior high school to a middle school. In 1991 and 1993 the metal and woodworking shops were transformed into science labs and two lecture rooms, an even larger cafeteria and connecting hallways, and more classrooms. 1998 saw more additions to classrooms, more restrooms, and additional entrances to accommodate the handicapped. Today Sam Houston has a student enrollment of around 834 students and 63 teachers. But more is happening outside the school building. It’s called “field turf.”

If you happened down Western Street anytime soon, look toward Sam Houston and you will see a brand new football field. What’s new is the installation of synthetic turf and two bright yellow goal posts. I happened upon the new turf installation recently when workers were busy spreading something called “crumb rubber.” This concoction of pulverized rubber and sand was being spread on top the green turf as part of the installation of the synthetic turf that began with removing the old sod and laying a drainage system. And the cost? Well I happen upon someone at the installation who told me that AISD, Amarillo Independent School District, entered into a “bundled” contract to install synthetic turf at nine middle schools. Four installations have already been completed. Horace Mann’s synthetic field in currently being installed, and there are around five more schools to go. The synthetic turf has already been installed at the high schools. Again, the cost? Well, a gentleman on the site told me that without the “bundled” deal that AISD would pay around $1 million per football field. And with the bundled deal that AISD would pay a little more than half a million dollars per field. That’s a lot of turf—or is it?

Synthetic turf sports fields are common all across the country, and even the world. If you will Google “Fieldturf”, you can get a mini lesson on the advantages and the costs of installing synthetic turf. When you Google “Field” Turf” you will find this information: “FieldTurf is the company that invented and perfected long-pile, infilled artificial turf. The company that changed the industry. FieldTurf was developed and engineered for athletes, by athletes. Before FieldTurf, natural grass was considered by many to be the best solution for sports fields around the world – even though it required constant maintenance and could not withstand heavy use. FieldTurf’s inventors were not trying to create a better artificial solution, they were trying to replicate natural grass. The development was built around one question: “Can we make synthetic turf that is equal to or better than the best natural grass?” In seeking the answer to this question, we worked closely with athletes, former players, coaches, trainers, and doctors. Development included years of trials, tests, samples, equipment innovations and advanced formulas – all with the goal of developing an artificial turf system that combined the performance properties of natural grass with the benefits of a synthetic solution. It worked.”

And so the question is this: Why is AISD spending over one-half million per school to install synthetic turf on 300 by 50 feet of football fields? Even as part of a passed bond issue for capital improvement is this money well spent? The gentleman from FieldTurf explained that the district can get “more bang for the buck” with field turf than natural grass–that takes a beating with every practice—so much so that you cannot play a game on real grass the day after practicing on it. He said that the synthetic turf will “pay for itself” with lots of playing time? (If you were a synthetic turf dealer wouldn’t you say this too?) But how much “action” will Sam Houston’s field turf get? The same goes for the turf installed at DeZavala, Austin, Fannin, and Horace Mann? What sports can be played on synthetic turf to justify the costs? Well only football and soccer can be played on synthetic turf—the rest of the time the turf is just there—“for show.” One person said that some cities install one synthetic field and charge other sports users to play on the turf to spread the cost of installation. So, doing the math, if AISD is planning to install nine middle schools with synthetic turf, at, let’s say $600,000 a pop, that $5.4 million dollars of fake grass that will be unused most of the school year except for two school related sports—namely football and soccer. What about “real education?” What about classroom busting at the seams and poorly paid teachers? What about retrofitting the grass as it wears—up to the expected 15 years of average life? Then, even synthetic turf has to be replaced.

When I asked about the “crumb rubber” mix of rubber and sand—guess what I was told. I was told that the rubber comes from old tires that are put through a very cold temperature processing until they can be pulverized into fine rubber. Old tires—as in the thousands of tires all over Amarillo? My brain started churning? Why can’t AISD make use of all the tires strewn everywhere all over Amarillo and use them as a rebate or offset against the cost of installing synthetic fields? Why not? Why not recycle and save money if synthetic turf is the grass of the future? We could kill two birds with one stone—rid this town of all these unsightly, mosquito, snake infested, tires, and trade them for the “crumb rubber” mix that is used to install the turf? Or, we can find out why AISD is spending so much money to install synthetic turf at middle schools where upwards of 70 percent of the students are on free lunch, and, their test scores consistently fall in the bottom one-third in the nation—and teacher pay is still too low for what teachers are consistently asked to do? Or we can ask AISD why athletic faculty pay is higher than the pay of AISD teachers who teach math, English and science? Well, you get my drift.

Copyright 2015 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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