This is part of a blog post series intended to be an accurate and unbiased discussion of sports field construction and maintenance costs for high performance natural grass sports fields as compared to synthetic turf.
Natural Grass vs Synthetic Turf: A Comparison of Construction and Yearly Maintenance Costs
- Part 1 - Introduction and Overall Cost Comparison
- Part 2 - Construction Costs and Maintenance Methods
- Part 3 - Cost Comparison - New Field Install, Maintenance Labor and Materials
- Part 4 - Cost Comparison - Outsourced Work, Equipment Maintenance, Renovation and Resurfacing, Irrigation Water
- Part 5 - When is Synthetic Turf A Legitimate Option?
High Traffic, No Other Fields Available
There are legitimate reasons where choosing a synthetic turf field over natural grass can make sense. The most obvious reason is for a field that will be in constant use for various practices, games, and various other events. Compounding the problem is the fact that there are no other fields available for which to help distribute the traffic. High quality natural grass fields need some time to recover from usage. In these situations, where it’s clear a natural grass field will have such high traffic on it and there are no other fields to use, synthetic turf may make the most sense. Of course, with such high activity, scheduling conflicts for field access will quickly become a problem, especially at larger public high schools - naturally creating a very real need for the construction of additional fields.
Most public school districts do have other fields available for use throughout the school year, thus affording them the ability to effectively manage traffic on their game field (even those schools that play a spring soccer schedule on the football game field). Only in rare situations are high schools “land locked” within a city and unable to afford an expansion of their athletic field footprint as needed.
The other main reason for considering a synthetic turf surface has to do with water. Poor irrigation water quality and/or an overall lack of affordable irrigation water for a natural grass sports field can make synthetic turf a more viable choice. Some municipalities have such poor irrigation water quality that it makes it very difficult and expensive to grow and maintain great natural grass sports turf. In extreme cases, the inability to water sports fields at all due to state and local hyper-regulation of natural resources may force an organization or school district (and the taxpayers) to absorb the higher price of synthetic turf.
A Note About Reclaimed Water
Many counties and cities are beginning to invest more in reclaimed water infrastructure. Using reclaimed water to irrigate sports fields is a great way to make water consumption more sustainable, and is significantly cheaper when compared to a standard city water supply. As efforts increase to bring more reclaimed water to market, public school districts and organizations with athletic fields can continue to properly irrigate their natural grass sports turf at a cheaper price, with the bonus of increased sustainability.
It’s unfortunate that counties and cities are not farther along in providing a quality reclaimed water source to their constituents. Increasing the availability of this new alternative would help school districts and organizations (that have an interest in quality sports fields) avoid having to spend significantly larger sums of money on synthetic turf installations.