Souhegan nears goal for turf installation
AMHERST – Last spring an anonymous donor offered the community $500,000 to install artificial turf at Souhegan High School’s football stadium, contingent on raising the balance of the nearly $1 million cost by Dec. 31.
Now it looks like the town is well on its way to raising the more than $400,000 needed.
At a Aug. 6 public forum at the high school, Brian Hall, fundraising committee chairman, said that about 75 percent of the $418,000 needed has been pledged so far, and the rest should be raised over the next two or three months, primarily through the sale of bricks.
"We want to make sure we take advantage of this very generous gift," said Travis Warren, of the Stadium Project Committee.
Amherst and Mont Vernon, which are part of the Souhegan School District, have been struggling in recent years to find enough field space. The new turf will allow the football field to have much broader use, Warren said, not only for football, but also for soccer, lacrosse and field hockey and for baseball and softball practice. It will also allow for practice sessions earlier in the spring and later into the fall.
This is not the artificial turf from the 1980s, he said, and it offers a flat surface with no mud or divots and it has been proven safe.
The forum addressed health concerns, with committee member George Bower, whose background is in occupational and environmental chemical exposure, saying exposure to toxic substances, for players and officials, is no different than what "you or I experience every day" from the chemicals in ordinary objects, including the seats in the school theater where the forum was held.
He explained the composition of turf – artificial grass infilled with tiny crumbs made from vehicle tires – and the routes of possible chemical exposure – inhalation, ingestion and dermal – and the chemicals of concern, including lead, zinc and selenium.
"More than 75 independent, credible research studies" from groups like the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the federal Environmental Protection Agency, "have found no adverse health effects," Bower said. Exposure to fine particles can be controlled by regular washing of the field, and worries can be eased by monitoring the material and taking samples for testing to a local laboratory, he said.
Bower said he has more concerns about the chemicals used in growing grass.
"We think the natural environment is benign. That’s not necessarily true," he said.
Artificial turf has an expected life of 10 or 12 years, and Pim Grondstra, of the Stadium Project Committee, said the plan is to have rental fees from outside sports organizations go into a replacement fund.
There were about 75 people in the Souhegan theater for the forum, which included a sports trainer from Bedford and a representative from a turf manufacturing company.
At one point the audience applauded the donor, at the suggestion of a man who said he did not know whether the anonymous person, said to be the father of a Souhegan alumnus and athlete, was in the audience.
Only one person spoke out against the plan, saying artificial turf is not as safe as a grass field and is hot in the summer. But most of people raised their hands when moderator Shannon Chandley asked how many supported the plans.
Warren said New Jersey and other states have spent a lot of money researching turf and decided it is safe.
A representative of the Sprinturf company acknowledged that during three or four weeks in the summer the field will be fairly hot, but during the rest of the year, it will be "soft, warm and comfortable."
"There’s no question it’s warmer, but it will quickly cool off," he said, and today’s turf is about 20 degrees cooler than turf made five or six years ago.
Eric Gelinas, a Bedford School District athletic trainer, said he has seen more traumatic injuries on grass fields than on turf.
A NBC news report last October sparked concern about artificial turf’s possible link to cancers, and the Synthetic Turf Council responded saying that after 60 studies over 22 years, "the preponderance of evidence shows no negative health effects associated with crumb rubber in synthetic turf."
According to the council, more than 11,000 synthetic turf sports fields are in use throughout the United States, and in 2013 between 1,200 and 1,300 fields were installed in North American schools, colleges, parks and professional sports stadiums.