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County OKs artificial turf at three stadiums

If the schedule holds, three Henderson County high school football teams will be playing on artificial turf this fall.

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The Board of Commissioners on Wednesday authorized a request for bids on the work, which would be fast-tracked for an Aug. 1 completion.

County architect ClarkNexsen presented a report that said the county could install artificial turf at all four county high schools for $5.5 million. The fields now are used for about 1,000 hours a year, the school system says, and the schools have a demand to use them for 1,500 hours. Currently football and soccer teams don't practice on the playing fields but would like to, said Associate Schools Superintendent John Bryant.

The commissioners heard from Edneyville-based natural grass grower that the county could make grass fields playable if it was willing to invest in proper installation, drainage and maintenance.

Linda Bradley, of Turf Mountain Sod in Edneyville, urged commissioners "to do your homework" before deciding between natural grass and artificial turf fields.

The county high schools' existing grass fields "are not properly installed and are not mantained properly, no offense to anyone," she said. "In today's world there are just as many natural grasses that are as good as any artificial playing surfaces. My husband was traveling and there were 11 soccers games played on one field in one day and it was absolutely beautiful and Henderson County can do the same thing."

Will Buie of WGLA Engineering, which also participated in the study, said the county is not investing adequately in the fields it has now.

"For proper operation for a natural field there are operations and maintenance cost that go along with that," which could range from $45,000 to $80,000 a year. "I would agree that the budget that is currently being provided for maintenance of these fields is inadequate."

Total construction cost would be $5.5 million for all four high schools, the ClarkNexsen report said, with construction possible by the middle of 2018 if commissioners appropriated the money in the 2017-18 budget.

Buie cautioned that the total construction number is somewhat soft because of the variety of options

"We start to ask, are we going to provide turf along the end zones, along the sidelines?" he said. "How do you deal with proper drainage? This is a very high level budget number. One of the options would be to consider performing a study and looking at each of the high schools indivudally. We would come back to you with the scope of the project."

"There is cost to sweep the field, to add additional material and there is a life cycle associated with that turf," he said. "So don't believe that that cost is zero. There are additional costs that go with that field."

But in the end, Buie said, the engineering analysis showed that artificial turf can withstand more play than natural grass.

"Even with additional funding for maintenance it's very difficult to have a grass field that can accommodate more than 600 hours of use each year," Buie said.

The county could start the process to install three fields for $2.6 million. Commissioner Grady Hawkins urged the board to delay a decision. He said he wants the School Board to rank priorities for spending — whether it would place artificial turf over more computers in the classroom, for instance.

"They do a lot of things in school other than play on athletic fields and this is a huge amount of money over three or four months of the year to be used," he said. "I think we're taking them out of the decision ... "

"We need to very possibly go out for bid," Commissioner Tommy Thompson said. "I think Commissioner Hawkins has a very important point to see what the schools think, but I also know that the schools sent us a letter saying they really wanted turf fields but they wanted turf fields not in lieu of some other things. ... But to determine that turf fields is a priority over Chromebooks or something else kind of worries me."

County Attorney Russ Burrell said in cases where the vendor has a contract with the U.S. or with the state of North Carolina and is willing to extend the same or more favorable terms to the local government unit. One vendor the county is talking with had a contract to install field at N.C. State University.

Chairman Michael Edney said the county would use available money in a capital reserve fund and would not be shifting money from some other School Board request.

"Turf fields will not affect their budget one way or the other," he said. "Unless you go in (and work on them) every night, the overall use makes it impossible to use natural grass on these fields."

Edney proposed going forward with new artificial turf fields at East Henderson, West Henderson and North Henderson high schools "and let Hendersonville wait until we know what's happening there." The Board of Commissioners has called a timeout on final design of a new HHS while it waits for a decision by the Hendersonville City Council on a zoning permit for the project.

The board approved a motion by Edney to authorize Georgia-based Field Turf, to perform an engineering and site study and final cost projections by April 19 and to appropriate $2.75 million for the three fields.

On the recommendation of County Manager Steve Wyatt, the board directed county staff to draft a request for proposals and invite all companies that install artificial turf fields to bid.

The board was split between those who urged caution — Lapsley and Hawkins — and those who wanted to fast-track the work so football teams will be playing on artificial turf this fall.

Bradley urged the commissioners to allow a North Carolina-based company, Carolina Green, to bid on the work.

Carolina Green "is certified with the feds and the state and at the last minute they have submitted a bid and I would like for them to at least have a say if you're going to go with artificial grass over natural grass," she said. Buie said engineers had spoken with them and gotten "some very preliminary prices."