Turf cooling system going in at Washington-Grizzly Stadium

Grizzly football will be popping the cork this week with an addition to the artificial turf at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

Less than a year after laying a new synthetic playing surface, FieldTurf is returning to Missoula to install its CoolPlay system that helps lower field temperatures during competition. The key component for CoolPlay involves replacing the top layer of crumb rubber infill with an extruded composite top dressing.

That’s crumbled-up cork to the laymen.

Montana installed new turf at a cost of $478,000 last July a year ahead of schedule, but because the timing of the project bumped up against the start of fall football camp and the 2016 season, FieldTurf agreed to lay its basic crumb rubber infill with the understanding that the project would be completed at a later date. The project will be completed by June 1, Montana athletic director Kent Haslam said.

FieldTurf allowed UM to delay payment for the installation until this year, and Montana planned to designate the bulk of a $625,000 check it will receive for playing at FBS Washington on Sept. 9 toward the project. The CoolPlay system was included in the package deal so this week’s work won’t cost the athletic department anything further.

“This is still part of the original bid,” Haslam explained. “We bought the CoolPlay system when we bought the turf. We ran out of time and they ran out of product at that point.”

CoolPlay expands on typical artificial turf makeup that features thin synthetic plastic fibers made to look like natural grass. Those are sewn together like carpet on top of crumbled rubber or sand, which acts as a shock absorber. The addition of a layer of cork just below the plastic fibers can keep playing surfaces, which can reach more than 150 degrees when exposed to direct sunlight, up to 35 degrees cooler than the alternative, according to FieldTurf’s website.

An added bonus of FieldTurf’s return to Missoula is the field at Wa-Griz will get a bit of a facelift. Artificial surfaces endure the wear of not only hundreds of hours of football activity, but countless more in community events like this month’s University of Montana graduation ceremony. A Montana winter also does a number on the turf.

The combination can lead to an uneven and lumpy playing surface or, after several sustained years of activity, plastic fibers disconnecting all together. “They’ll come in and fluff it back up,” Haslam said. “There’s wear and tear on it, but it’s certainly not breaking off and carrying out on your shoes like the old turf was.”

That surface was installed in 2008. The latest version is the third edition of artificial playing surfaces at the stadium since grass was removed prior to the 2001 season. The prior two were both provided by SprinTurf.

Games at Washington-Grizzly Stadium were played on grass from the stadium’s opening in 1986 through the 2000 campaign.

FieldTurf was installed at several locations around the state last year, including Missoula County Stadium at Big Sky High School, Billings’ Rocky Mountain College and Butte High’s Naranche Stadium.- AJ Massolini, The Missoulian