New Zealand firm wins turf war

LIMERICK, PA — For two Spring-Ford Area School Board members, finally selecting a vendor to convert grass to manmade turf at Coach McNelly Stadium is almost as rewarding as watching the Rams kick one through the uprights.

By a 7-to-2 vote, the board approved several contracts at its Tuesday meeting but not before board member Mark Dehnert rolled off a list of questions about artificial turf’s safety, environmental risks and longevity.

One resident questioned why a local company (Sprinturf) was not selected, especially when its proposal was $30,000 less than the winning bidder (Tiger Turf).

Lechmanik Inc., of West Chester, won the $878,750 general contracting award. A $395,115 contract was awarded to Tiger Turf, a subsidiary of multinational corporation Tiger-Sul. The company, formed in New Zealand, has operations in Alabama, Canada, the United Kingdom, Turkey and Italy, its Web site states. A new factory recently opened in Austin, Texas.

When combined with lacrosse sleeves, goal posts and a resurfacing of the running track surrounding Coach McNelly Stadium, the total project costs $1,337,165.

Board members Ammon Morgan and John Grispon remember when these upgrades were discussed in September 2006.

“We need to do something sooner rather than later,” Morgan said just before a vote.

Grispon said the board had done “a lot due diligence.” He was all smiles after the meeting — pleased with finally moving forward on an issue that was almost two years in the making. Dehnert and Bernard Pettit voted against the athletics package.

Unlike most public projects, the district didn’t need to select the “lowest responsive” bidder because an alternative structure was used, Grispon said. Additionally, due to the nature of athletic turf, it is

nearly impossible to prove one surface is equal to another.

“Over the long haul, (Tiger Turf) seems to be the best value,” consultant Stephen Parks said.

Sprinturf, a company with offices in Wayne and Philadelphia, lost out, as did about 10 others. That didn’t stop company CEO Stanley Green from addressing the board. He offered to have former Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil visit Spring-Ford’s students. (The Chiefs are a Sprinturf customer.)

With bidding now complete, school officials face a condensed work schedule.

If weather cooperates, Sept. 19 is a realistic completion date, according to Parks. That Friday marks the home opener for the high school football team.

“It’s an aggressive schedule. There’s no question about it,” he said.

Over the past few months, several reports have linked turf to health, safety and environmental effects.

Like many science discussions that enter the political arena, supporters and industry leaders insist there is no conclusive data. When questioned by Dehnert about reports of lead contamination and other health risks associated with turf, the consultant gave a short response.

“That’s perception,” Parks said.

Furthermore, “no data” exist that anyone experienced environmental problems with synthetic turf. The rubber grasses have lead levels that are well below allowable limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, he said.

As for the New Jersey fields that tested positive for lead this spring, Parks said the Synthetic Turf Council “had a chemist refute” those claims.

According to a recent Synthetic Turf Council report found on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Web site, more than 90 percent of turf yarns have very low or undetectable levels of lead chromate. Lead chromate is not the substance found in lead paint, the report states.

Of the 40,000 cases of high lead concentrations reported in children’s blood during 2006, none were attributed to synthetic turf exposure. However, certain “specialty colors” may contain lead levels more than 3,000 parts per million.

Lead chromate is used for better colorfastness, ultraviolet stabilization and “vibrancy,” according to the report.

Delaware Riverkeeper, an environmental advocacy group, sent a letter to the Spring-Ford board dated May 16. While it states further study is needed, Riverkeeper wrote, “There is enough information to cause significant concern and to warrant a conservative approach in decision making — one that directs the community away from artificial turf and towards the traditional use of natural grass for sports and public play fields.”

Only one resident raised health or environmental concerns in their remarks — Alice Lang of Friends of Mingo Creek. The majority, such as Ed Thomas, supported the initiative.

“Our fields are deplorable,” Thomas said.

A growing district can’t have multiple teams practicing on the same grass fields, he added. As for health concerns, with so many college teams using the technology, any serious problems would have arisen by now.

Steve Shine, an athletic coach, said, “I don’t see anything negative that would result from this.”

Once complete, the field will be painted for both football and soccer, Athletic Director Mickey McDaniel said. Lines for other sports will be painted as needed.

The length of the fiber isn’t ideal for field hockey, Parks said, but all sports can make use of the field. McDaniel noted that it would be open to physical education classes and the school band.

This summer, the board is expected to solicit bids for the high school No. 9 field, a turf project expected to cost approximately $1 million. Board member Julie Mullin wants to wait and see how the McNelly project turns out before awarding this contract.

In addition to durability and greater player use, there appears to be revenue-generating potential with synthetic fields. The Owen J. Roberts School District made $10,000 in rental fees off its turf field last year, Board President Donna Williams said.