School district will pay more to avoid crumb rubber infill

A group of parents celebrated victory earlier this month when district officials decided to abandon crumb rubber in proposed athletic fields at two west county high schools.

West Sonoma Union High School District (CA) board members weighed nine infill options for the athletic fields at Analy and El Molino high schools. After listening to a number of residents, the board directed staff to look at the cost and maintenance associated with two options: an infill made from 100 percent cork and another made from coconut fiber and cork.

Residents were thrilled with the quick move to boot crumb rubber. The crowd burst into applause when board members made the decision. A group of parents had raised concerns over the crumb rubber and the potential of exposing their children to hazardous chemicals.

Crumb rubber is made from recycled tires, which contain potential carcinogens. However, the 100 percent cork infill is expected to cost $170,000 more per field than crumb rubber. The combination of coconut fiber and cork infill is more expensive — $270,000 more per field than crumb rubber, according to Superintendent Keller McDonald.

Board member Kellie Noe supported the change. She said student safety comes first.

“I don’t think there’s a price we can put on the safety of our students,” she said during the meeting, which drew about 50 residents.

In November, board members voted 4-0 to install synthetic turf that uses crumb rubber but later decided to revisit the plan after some parents complained.

Parent Nell Hergenrather led the push against crumb rubber. She urged board members to pick the coconut fiber infill.

“I want my kids to be able to dive” on the fields, she said Wednesday.

District officials are expected to come back in late March with more details on the two options as well as other upgrades needed.

“The longer we wait the more expensive it’s probably going to be,” board president Diane Landry said.

The district hoped to get started on the project this summer and have the fields ready by November. The Division of the State Architect has the final construction plans and must approve them before the school district can break ground.

Board members have about a month to make a final decision to stay on the proposed timeline, McDonald said. Otherwise, they’ll likely have to wait until next year to start construction.

“Every time we postpone a decision, it costs money. We don’t have an unlimited amount of money,” he said.

District staff estimated the cost would increase by more than 10 percent if they delayed.

However, the district must find the additional money to pay for the changes.

Although there are unallocated bond dollars, McDonald said there are other competing projects that school board members will have to consider. The fields are part of a nearly $8 million overhaul of the schools’ stadiums used for football, soccer, physical education classes and other activities.

The community started raising funds for the improvements in 2006, but the projects were eventually funded with bond dollars.

You u can reach Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González at 521-5458 or On Twitter @eloisanews