The topic of re-turfing Fujitani Field, the football field at Wilton High School, was the subject of consideration by the Board of Selectmen at their meeting last night (Tuesday, Feb. 16). Parks & Recreation Commission chair Mark Ketley presented the plan for replacing the artificial turf field to the board members.
The Commission is recommending the town install an organic artificial turf at Fujitani. Installation of this type of field would cost the town $650,000 and would be presented to voters as a capital bonded project.
Redoing the field is a project that has been on the town’s long-range capital plan for many years, and that this is the year it has come due.
“The current field is 12 years old. It’s reached the end of its life. It’s time for a new field,” he said.
Ketley said the subcommittee he formed to oversee the plan to re-turf the field did a lot of research to be able to make a recommendation. “We looked at bringing in three of the top companies in the country for turfing, we asked a lot of questions, we did a lot more research, and we were really looking for three main items: safety of the student athletes and adult athletes that use the field; playability for the three sports that will use the stadium; and environmental effects.”
The committee settled on Shaw, a company that installs organic turf fields. “The infill is 96-percent coconut husk, and the remaining 4-percent is a small amount of cork, corn husk and such. Our concern about the environment and all the concern about crumb rubber, we took to heart and just discounted crumb rubber as an alternative to us for this field.”
Ketley showed the selectmen a sample of the turf that would be used.
To address safety, Ketley told the BoS that there would be a shock pad layer underneath the turf, “specifically to reduce effects of concussion, which is the number-one concern of these types of fields.”
He also said that the organic turf eliminates the safety concern associated with crumb rubber fields, as well as issues related to excessive heat that athletes experience on non-organic turf. “Because of the organic nature, this field takes in moisture, so it has a cooling effect. It could actually be 40-degrees cooler…than a crumb rubber field.”
Ketley said that the subcommittee spoke to towns that have installed the organic turf and visited one location to be able to physically see, touch and walk on a field like what they’re considering.
An organic turf field is more expensive than a crumb rubber turf field, but that “the plus side far outweighs everything else.” The field also carries an 8-year warrantee, but Ketley said the Parks & Rec commission hopes to get 10-12 years out of the new field.
The sub-committee did look at other types of infill, including crumb rubber, cryogenically frozen rubber, and walnut (which was discounted because of nut allergies).
“It will be the nicest field in the area, by far,” Ketley said.
While organic coconut fields are maintained similarly to Fujitani’s current field maintenance, there will be some additional costs associated each consecutive year with this type of field, because the infill needs to be refilled to replace any infill matter that was displaced. In addition, the proposal for the new field covers removal and disposal of the existing turf cover on Fujitani now.
As for timing of installation, the new field would be put in over the summer. Ketley noted that they would wait until after July 4th so as not to impact the town’s Independence Day festivities, and that it would take a couple weeks to get it installed. “The goal is to have it ready for the start of football season. We’re pretty confident we can have it ready for their practice sessions.”
First selectman Lynne Vanderslice said she was “thrilled” by the proposal. “I think it’s a huge win for the town particularly if we’re the only one doing it. It’s a good selling point to the community,” she said.
Ketley remarked that the artificial turf field at Kristine Lilly Stadium will come up for replacement in two years, and that if the Fujitani plan is approved, they would do the same thing for that field. “We’ll continue on the organic side. There’s no reason not to.”
Operating or Bonded Capital
The Fujitani field project is on the list of bonded capital projects. Vanderslice said at one time it had been on the list of operating capital projects, but last year officials moved it to bonded capital projects when bond counsel said that other town had been bonding similar types of projects.
The proposal still has to be voted on by Wilton residents during the annual Town Meeting and vote, on May 3 and May 7, and it can only be implemented if it passes.
What does this mean for the proposed artificial field at Middlebrook?
Vanderslice said she met with the leaders of the “Time to Turf” group that is proposing to gift the town with an artificial turf field at Middlebrook. “Their expectation is that we’re going to a town standard, they’re aware that this is what we’re doing.”
Selectman Michael Kaelin said the Fujitani presentation now made him concerned about the field that’s planned at Middlebrook, which had originally been a crumb rubber artificial one. “While somebody else is paying for that, it is our property, and I dont think the public is going to understand why we’re using a substance on one field and another substance on another field. Especially with concerns raised about the crumb rubber.”
Steve Pierce, executive director of the Parks & Rec department said that even something that gets gifted to the town has to meet Parks & Rec approval.
Vanderslice assured the other selectmen that the Wilton Youth Football Association members are very much aware of what they’d have to do if the town decides to go with the more expensive organic artificial turf. What’s more, she reminded the others that the final project plan would need to come before the Board of Selectmen to be gifted, and the town doesn’t have to accept it if it’s not what the town wants.
“We should adopt a standard. They have to gift it to us, and we’re only going to accept a gift of what meets our town standard. They know if we’re putting in they have to [fundraise more]. If it happens, they know that they’re putting in the same thing that we’re putting in. They understand.”