Committee seeks private funds for synthetic sports field
December 16, 2009 - Synthetic turf could soon find its way onto the Oxford High School football field after two previous bond proposals failed to provide the necessary funding.
The 15-member committee of Oxford citizens plan on raising the remaining funds through private means in order to install the turf.
An initial meeting was held Dec. 9 at Oxford High School, during which members began the process of evaluating what kind of field turf they wanted for the stadium and shared ideas for what the potential turf could look like.
The committee was looking for ways to celebrate the school's colors in a unique manner that would make everyone proud, said committee member Bill Keenist.
Keenist voiced an idea that he and Coach Bud Rowley previously discussed – instead of having a traditional green field, the turf color could be navy blue with gold endzones.
"Bud (Rowley) has the brilliant idea of making the most unique field in the state of Michigan or the country, blue and gold like Boise State. And I think it's phenomenal and a tremendous idea," said Keenist.
"I thought that it would be a unique idea and unique selling point to go with the blue football field," said Rowley.
Committee member Jim Reis echoed Rowley and Keenist's sentiments when he talked about it being unique. "It would stand out from other schools," he said.
"The reality is with that approach, we have an opportunity to leverage that with the turf company," said Keenist at the meeting. "If I'm a turf company, I want this project more than I want any other project coming up.
The committee plans to entice a turf company by selling them on the idea that this project is an opportunity to "take your company to the mountain top," Keenist noted.
At the meeting, Rowley indicated that players outside the school district would attend Oxford in order to play on the blue turf.
"You're going to get six, eight, 10, 15 kids in the area who want to come play on that blue turf," the coach said.
"Every field in our conference (OAA) has turf, but no one has what we have," Keenist said. "Bud's right, this is going to attract families and students, not just for football, but for everything that is going to be on the field."
If the committee decides to go forward with a blue turf idea, and a contractor agrees that it's a feasible project, Oxford would be the first high school in the state with a blue football field, according to Keenist.
There are at least two other high schools that play football on blue turf in the United States – Barrow High School in Barrow, Alaska and West Hills High School in Santee, California.
"We put in blue turf for a couple of reasons. First, blue is one of our school colors, so it was a natural fit. Second, we wanted to be different. All of the schools in our district already had green turf fields," said Don Rutledge, the Athletic Director at West Hills. "We may not have done it if we could not have done alternating light blue, dark blue.
The only other teams with blue football fields in the United States that this reporter could find were at the collegiate level – Boise State University in Boise, Idaho and the University of New Haven in New Haven, Connecticut.
When asked about the idea of putting in blue turf at Clarkston High School, Athletic Director Dan Fife said they originally thought about it, but were deterred after they learned that Boise State was having troubles with birds diving onto the field thinking that it was water.
"That was the main cause," said Fife. "That really prevented us totally from doing it. They really thought they had a problem, so it wasn't worth it."
Brandon High School Athletic Director Wayne Thompson said that the idea was mentioned, but was never really considered.
"It was never, ever seriously considered. The way the coaches were talking about it, it was just kind of mentioned almost in humor," he said.
With or without the blue turf, the committee wants to replace the grass with turf.
Keenist stated that originally the cost would be around $500,000 to $800,000 for the field turf if they were starting from scratch, but funds allocated to help fix the drainage problems at the football stadium in the bond proposal will lower the amount needed for the complete turf.
"It would definitely cost less than it would to start from scratch. It's almost a responsibility of ours to try and pursue this at this time to take advantage of that opportunity because at some point we are going to have turf. And if we can make it more economical for everybody involved, which it will be, then it's more incumbent upon us to act appropriately and expeditiously," said Keenist.
"Because of the needed repairs and improvements to the current track and drainage at the stadium, now would be a very advantageous time to work in concert with that project with the turf," Keenist added.
He added that they would not know the exact cost, or what type of turf they need until the climate, soil, infrastructure, location, substructure and weather was analyzed at by the experts.
Reis said that there were many pluses to having the synthetic turf.
"To me, the biggest plus in all this is that turf allows many more opportunities for student participation at all levels and programs," he said.
Reis noted that some of the programs that would benefit from the synthetic turf would be football, band, lacrosse, soccer, track, Jr. Wildcat football, baseball, softball and cheer.
It was mentioned during the meeting that the field would also be used by the Oxford Township Parks and Recreation Department, as well as adult programs.
"When you factor in the multiple uses of a turf field...you go from approximately 60 uses a year on a grass field to over 600 on a turf field," said Keenist.
"With all the uses, the ticket sales would be greater and concession money would increase, which would go to all programs," Reis explained.
Keenist added that when you factor in the cost of maintaining a grass field versus synthetic turf, all of the uses turf has and the lost opportunities with a grass field, the savings and benefits are tremendous.
"When you have three, four, five thousand individuals coming to your community on a Saturday afternoon in November, they are going to spend money and be exposed to the wonderful community of Oxford. Everybody's going to benefit," said Keenist when he talked about the possibility of having state playoff games at the school because of the turf.
When and if the instillation is completed, the turf would become school property and the maintenance of it would become the district's responsibility.
"It would basically be a gift to the school district. It becomes the school's property once it is gifted," said Oxford Athletic Director Mike Watson.
Watson said the maintenance cost of the field would be significantly less than taking care of natural grass.
"The maintenance cost on the grass right now far exceeds the maintenance cost on the turf. In effect, it's a cost savings to the school district," said Watson. "What we spend solely on the stadium field in turf maintenance right now is $21,000 and we estimated maintenance for the turf field is $4,000."
The turf usually lasts about 10 years, and the estimated cost of replacing the synthetic turf, the rubber backing and carpet would be around $200,000. The cost of replacing the actual grass and sod would be around $150,000, according to Watson.
According to Watson, talks have begun about a potential endowment fund being set up for turf replacement.
In addition to the turf, the committee will also try to raise funds for two buildings that would house teams at halftime, then be converted into storage facilities. The approximate cost is $10,000 per building.
At their next meeting, the group plans on discussing potential fund-raising ideas and what other communities have done to put in a turf field.
Andrew Moser is a staff writer for the Oxford Leader.