Turf talk

Fund Board asked to help pay for artificial grass

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— A group of Steamboat Springs parents, community members and coaches are pushing to install an artificial surface at Gardner Field.

The change at Steamboat Springs High School's main outdoor athletic field could come in time for football and boys soccer this fall.

The group will come before the Steamboat Springs Education Fund Board tonight to ask for $250,000 -- about half the total cost of the field. Private donations and community fundraisers would pay for the remainder of the project.

"This project is something the Capital Commission has looked at for years," Capital Commission and Fund Board member Tom Ptach said. "Since there has been such a strong movement, we felt this was an appropriate time to bring this forward."

The Education Fund Board doles out funds raised through a half-cent city sales tax for education. In addition to capital projects, the Fund Board also spends money on technology and educational excellence. The tax raises about $2 million a year.

"There has been a lot of talk during the last three years, but it was just this year that we have people making a real push and getting down to the nuts and bolts of it," Steamboat Springs High School boys lacrosse coach Bob Hiester said.

Hiester, who said practice conditions this spring were "horrendous," has been a supporter of replacing Gardner Field's grass surface with an artificial playing surface made from synthetic fibers, sand and recycled tires.

"It's an ideal surface for this area," Hiester said.

Gardner Field is the Steamboat Springs High School football field.

"We had two practices on grass this year," Hiester said. "The rest of the time was in the gym. On an artificial surface field, we would be out there all year."

Neither the boys nor girls lacrosse teams played a home game this season because of wet fields. The materials in the artificial turf field retain heat -- even in winter -- and are more durable than grass.

Artificial surfaces don't need to be watered and don't need to be lined before games.

"They come with the lines on it," Hiester said. "You order it for the sports you want."

In addition to the athletic benefits -- the field would be used by football, soccer and lacrosse teams -- having a home surface available in the spring could benefit the high school academically.

During the spring, because no fields are dry enough for use until late April, sports teams are forced to travel to Grand Junction and the Front Range to practice, scrimmage and play games, including the scheduled "home" contests.

"The loss of class time this year, for kids and myself, has been tough," said Hiester, a teacher at the high school. "It would make a difference."

High school Principal Mike Knezevich said the academic impacts an artificial turf field would have on his students far outweigh the athletic benefits.

Each student-athlete misses 181 minutes of class time for every out-of-area athletic trip, Knezevich said. Many sports teams have to practice until 10 p.m. because of limited gym space, meaning students drive home late at night. Study habits are effected, and the kids' safety is jeopardized, he said.

"Kids come into school tired because they had to stay up late," Knezevich said. "It's just not a good situation. We're putting our kids at risk. That's a real worry."

Knezevich said the school's teachers are great about working with students about their missed class time and assignments but that the situation "isn't fair to anyone."

Steamboat coaches and athletes often rave about the artificial turf fields in the Vail area.

David Cope, the girls and boys soccer coach at Battle Mountain High School, allowed Steamboat Springs to "host" Glenwood Springs on March 20 because the Edwards field has been dry since February.

Freedom Park in Edwards, the complex Battle Mountain uses, has been open for three years.

"It has been incredible," Cope said. "It's a great thing for a town to have. When we first started talking about that field complex, one of the things we said is that one of the fields had to be artificial to benefit the girls at all."

Cope said mountain towns such as Vail and Steamboat can't control the February start for spring sports in Colorado. Most of the state's ski resorts don't close until mid-April.

"We haven't done a single day in a gym," Cope said. "That's really important. It lends credibility to the girls season because they are out playing soccer the way it's supposed to be played."

The Education Fund Board meets at 7 p.m. today at the George P. Sauer Human Services Center on Seventh Street.

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