Glaring examples of the field's age show.
WESTFIELD, NJ – Installed 13 years ago, the turf field at Gary Kehler Stadium is set to be resurfaced as part of a $3.03 million renovation of the stadium set to start in April.
But with five months of play remaining before the stadium’s anticipated overhaul starts, the question remains: is the existing field safe?
School officials said the turf is safe, following repairs district officials ordered made over the summer when they learned the stadium’s renovation would be delayed. Records show a school district aware of the potential risks of using the field installed in 2006 and the results of tests it ordered on the field, which was manufactured by the company, FieldTurf.
“We had the field and track inspected and made repairs to both this summer after we knew the project would be delayed,” said School Business Administrator Dana Sullivan. “We are doing this project because both the field and track are at the end of their useful life.”
The records released following a request under the state’s Open Public Records Act show the environmental engineering firm, PMK Group, hired by the district, found “elevated lead-containing materials” in May of 2008 in one of four samples taken from the field.
The firm found lead in “yellow fibers” sewn into the field, prompting it to advise the district to limit use of the field in accordance with state Department of Health and Human Services procedures.
“The NJDHSS conservative approach is to limit access to the artificial turf fields that have been identified to contain elevated concentrations of lead, as well as amend the current maintenance/administration procedures,” the report said.
The firm issued the following recommendations for Westfield:
- Suppress dust on the field by wetting down the surface before and after use by any individual.
- Encourage individuals using the fields to perform aggressive hand/body washing after playing on the field and remove the clothes that are worn on the field by taking them off inside out and washing them separately.
- Maintain the field in accordance with the manufacturer’s guidelines.
There are no state requirements that mandate testing of turf fields, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said.
Supervisor of Athletics Sandra Mamary said that although the field is old, it is safe for play.
“If there was a reason for concern, we wouldn’t be here,” Mamary said. “I’m being honest. It’s not as bad as people are making it out to be, and I keep trying to tell people that. ... Of course, everything wears down, but it’s not worn out, or you wouldn’t be on it.”
To address the topic of the turf being too hard, the district conducted impact testing on the field and leveled the field by raking it, Mamary said.
“We had a company come in and measure the impact test on it, and it came back incredibly well within the safety measures — so now you’re looking at a field that’s not too hard,” she said.
Records of the impact study by Edwards Engineering Group Inc. confirm that was the case, in 2016.
“There are not any apparent safety issues associated with the field,” said William Edwards, of Edwards Engineering Group Inc., in his report to the school district then. “The slightly deeper than normal infill mix may result in a slower field under foot, due to its increased sponginess. This field should be serviceable for another season.”
Addressing the short blades of “grass,” Mamary said the district had the field professionally raked.
“What would be the other complaint of having a short turf field? That would be to make sure that the filaments were evenly dispersed. We hired an outside company who does this for a living come in and for five hours on a Friday, they literally just raked the field,” she said.
“They leveled the entire field, and there’s some hashes if you look, so they literally went through every line to make sure everything was zoned out.”
Still, glaring examples of the field’s age show.
The “grass” blades have shortened over time with continued exposure to rubber cleats, causing the rubber infill to visibly rise above the surface. At various spots on the field, there are clumps of grass blades built up, forming small mounds of the rubber blades.
Mostly, the turf still has plenty of bounce to it, and is up to standards, Mamary said.
“It has performed above and beyond what the manufacturer said,” Mamary said. “Our maintenance department takes care of it. We get it tested and make sure to get that other company to come in. Everything that we can do and should be doing, we do.”
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