Real Grass Not Plastic for the St. Helena RLS Middle School
Real Grass Not Plastic for the St. Helena RLS Middle School
Why this petition matters
URGENT: THIS THURSDAY EVENING THE ST. HELENA SCHOOL BOARD WILL BE REVIEWING THE ARCHITECT OF RECORD'S PROPOSAL ON THE REPLACEMENT OF THE RLS MIDDLE SCHOOL FIELD WITH ARTIFICIAL TURF--AT A COST OF 5.7 MILLION DOLLARS. IT IS AN INFORMATIONAL ITEM MEANING THAT PUBLIC COMMENT IS ALLOWED. IT MAY NOT RETURN TO THE BOARD AGENDA IN THE FUTURE. PLEASE TAKE A MOMENT TO CONSIDER THE NATURAL GRASS ALTERNATIVE AND VOICE YOUR SUPPORT FOR OUR CHILDREN'S HEALTH AND THAT OF OUR COMMUNITY.
Why would anyone replace a key sustainable component of our living environment with a coal and oil-derived product, one of only limited life span and almost impossible to recycle? When the entire planet is waging war on unnecessary plastics and the climate emergency, what is it that persuades decision makers to make this terrible choice? And why cover children's sports fields in products that can harm their health? Why on earth does anyone choose artificial grass?
In December of 2021 the St. Helena school board voted 3-2 to replace the Robert Louis Stevenson Middle School track and field. The current track and field, which is heavily used by students and the general public, was natural grass that was originally poorly installed and currently receives no regular maintenance or irrigation. It is proposed that the existing field be replaced by a synthetic turf field and an asphalt/rubber track. In 2021 it was estimated that the project would cost $4.3 million. The impetus for selecting artificial turf is predominately based on the concern of water use both in regard to cost, and the potential shaming of the project by the general public for its use of water for irrigation.
There are many options for helping to alleviate water consumption for irrigation with more options being developed constantly. While residents are asked or required to stop irrigating it is important that the public has access to natural places of refuge. Our concern is that the project as proposed consumes all designated recreation areas at RLS with either asphalt, rubber track, or a petroleum field. This is a concern from the perspective of student health in terms of heat, air quality, potential chemical exposure, and increased injuries as well as a concern for mental health and general well-being.
Recently, the district’s construction manager has stated that the budget should be increased to $5.7 million due to the current higher costs of fuel and petroleum, which are contained in many of the necessary construction materials for the current project proposal. A local donor, Jim Gamble, has offered to contribute approximately 1 million dollars toward the project however the donation is put forth on the condition that the field is replaced with artificial turf.
The option to replace the field with natural grass has not been adequately investigated or priced for the sake of cost comparison or student well-being. To date, the district has not performed research regarding the safety and health implications or the environmental impacts of artificial turf. Additionally, no natural turf consultants or experts have been engaged to provide information regarding contemporary installation and irrigation techniques to reduce water usage.
At a recent meeting of the district’s budget committee, sales representatives from two artificial turf companies were available for comment and questions. No representative or expert was invited to present a natural grass alternative as this option has not been seriously considered beyond the context of fear of water use. Questions were posed to the sales representatives and the committee as to the dangers of artificial turf and the natural turf option. The following points were acknowledged:
- On-field temperatures of artificial turf are 40 - 70 degrees higher than the surrounding air temperature. The field and surrounding track will be unsafe to use many days of the year.
- Irrigation will still be a necessary aspect of the artificial turf and will be installed as a part of the project for potential use to cool the turf.
- Stated annual maintenance costs for synthetic turf are 30k per year higher than for natural turf. These estimates are based on NO use of the lower reservoir which has water costs of 1/3 the potable water cost and a direct outlet already in place at the RLS.
- The district does not have current staff sufficient to properly maintain a natural grass field or an artificial turf field. However, the district plans to contract out the maintenance of the artificial turf field with a third-party vendor.
- In our climate, the artificial turf is projected to need to be replaced in approximately 8 years, with microplastics shedding well in advance of the replacement.
- No filtration system has been planned to prevent plastic and infill particulate from entering the natural water system.
SYNTHETIC VS. ARTIFICIAL TURF, A SUMMARY COMPARISON:
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE:
- Even if you do not have children or your children do not attend the school, your property tax dollars are being used to fund the project. Installation of natural grass field with modern water sensors and irrigation systems would cost less than the 5.6 million dollar estimated cost. A portion of the remaining budget could be used to add large specimen shade trees, replace other landscaping with low-water alternatives, upgrade the school with rainwater catchment and gray water systems to offset water use, and create an adolescent-appropriate play area.
- The artificial turf field will create a large heat island effect impacting the students as well as surrounding properties.
- An artificial turf field will leach chemicals and plastics into the surrounding area and water table.
- Despite its green appearance, the artificial field will be dangerously hot to the touch much of the year (40-60 degrees hotter than surrounding air temps) creating a potential burn hazard for unknowing members of the community, pets, and students alike.
- The stated replacement timeline by manufacturers is approximately every 8 years, creating more than 44,000 pounds of petroleum-based waste and requiring a massive repeat investment to remove and replace.
WHAT YOU CAN DO—WE ONLY HAVE TWO DAYS TO VOICE OUR OPINIONS:
Sign this petition to let the district know you care.
Send an email directly to the district (email to email@example.com) at least 1 hour prior to Thursday night’s board meeting voicing your opinion:
- Demand better for your children’s health and well-being.
- Request the process be suspended to allow time for the natural alternative to be more thoroughly evaluated and a cost comparison formulated.
- State your concerns for the environmental impact on our community.
- Share your own artificial turf story.
Share this link and talk about it with every parent and community member that you can. Ask them to attend or submit letters as well.
If you know a potential individual donor or organization willing to help match the million-dollar contribution from the artificial turf donor, ask them to reach out directly to Andy Stubbs, Chief Business Official at the district office. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Attend the school board meeting this Thursday evening (Nov 17th) and voice your concern. Open session begins at 6:00 p.m., in the Board Room, at Vintage Hall, 465 Main Street, St. Helena.
FOR MORE DETAILED INFORMATION PLEASE READ:
LA's Recent Turf Battle: https://peer.org/los-angeles-artificial-turf-plan-misguided/
Basic synopsis regarding inaccuracies of artificial turf low maintenance and irrigation argument: https://www.nontoxiccommunities.com/synthetic-turf.html
Natural Turf vs Synthetic water benefits: https://www.sportsfieldmanagement.org/natural-grass-athletic-fields/
Turi is an excellent resource for organic turf management schedules and support: https://www.turi.org/Our_Work/Community/Athletic_Playing_Fields
Martha’s Vineyard organic maintenance case study. See page 10 for annual maintenance expenditures:
Yale research article on health impacts of hot asphalt: https://news.yale.edu/2020/09/02/asphalt-adds-air-pollution-especially-hot-sunny-days
Basic synopsis of negative health impacts of artificial turf: https://www.becausehealth.org/everything-you-need-to-know-about-artificial-turf-2657680226.html
Deep dive regarding negative health impacts of artificial turf including alternative infill options: https://www.healthandenvironment.org/webinars/96595
Basic article regarding NFL move away from artificial turf due to % increase of player injuries: https://nflpa.com/posts/only-natural-grass-can-level-the-nfls-playing-field
City of Boston ban on artificial turf: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/sep/30/boston-bans-artificial-turf-toxic-forever-chemicals-pfas
Regarding the waste of removed turf: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/12/artificial-turf-fields-are-piling-no-recycling-fix/603874/
Regarding Natural Turf and Wildfire Fire Benefits: https://www.horticulture.com.au/globalassets/hort-innovation/resource-assets/tu17008-literature-review-living-turf-fire-benefits-study.pdf
Comparison and contrast on natural versus artificial play fields: https://www.safehealthyplayingfields.org/
Maintaining Safe Sports Fields: https://safesportsfields.cals.cornell.edu/
Cornell University Turfgrass Program: https://turf.cals.cornell.edu/sports-turf/