Benefield: Struggling to maintain our playing fields
It is hard to imagine worse timing for Montgomery.
When the football and soccer field at the high school and its track were closed suddenly and without warning in late October, the football team was on the eve of a postseason appearance and the soccer teams were less than a week away from tryouts.
Those carefully crafted game schedules between the highly successful girls and boys soccer programs? Toss ’em. It is expected that all Vikings games will be on the road this season.
The reason? The turf the Vikings have been playing on for 14 years was deemed unplayable and a safety risk.
When Principal Randy Burbank sent out an email to the school community on Oct. 25 announcing that the field would be shut down immediately, he wrote that the lifespan of a typical synthetic field is 10-15 years. It turns out that number, learned in a series of conversations with Santa Rosa City School District officials since the closure, has been revised to 8-10 years.
That number is important. The most conservative math puts the field four years past its safe, usable lifespan. Worst-case scenario is that kids have been running around that field six years longer than was still considered to be safe.
By either calculation, the field at Montgomery was well beyond its replacement date. Coaches describe walking the field and gluing letters and line markings back to the turf to eliminate tripping hazards. Seams were clearly visible.
There have been no reports of injury attributed to the condition of the field, according to district officials.
Since the closure, district officials have said kids were not in danger. In his email, Burbank said the closure was meant to “minimize potential injuries to our student athletes.” But the immediate, middle-of-the-football season shutdown seems to send a different message. An urgent one. On a Thursday afternoon the football team was practicing there, but by Thursday night it was deemed unplayable — and a Friday night junior-varsity contest was moved to Healdsburg.
“I don’t believe they were in danger. We are doing this as a preventive measure,” said Rick Edson, assistant superintendent of Santa Rosa City Schools. “It’s a matter of minimizing any associated risk, so we felt that it was better to start on this project sooner rather than later.”
“This project” is the long-overdue replacement of Montgomery’s football and soccer field, as well as the track. And “sooner” now means right this very second. The field is being torn up as of this writing.
And this, despite years of, at the very least, grumbling about the state of the field and, at the most, vocal complaints. Edson acknowledged that.
“There has been concern from both the school site and district office about the field out there,” he said.
Yet it’s unclear what kind of regular maintenance or testing has been done on Montgomery’s field or any of the district’s other four high school all-weather surfaces. The problems at Montgomery came to full light after the district accepted an offer from the company that worked on the installation of a new field at Maria Carrillo last school year to test the fields at the other four high schools.