The town’s only synthetic playing field is about a year-and-a-half away from game-over, according to a specialist in product assessment.
And that happens to dovetail with the town’s replacement schedule.
Ian Lacy of Burlington-based Tom Irwin, Inc., told the Bedford Select Board on Monday that intensified maintenance can keep the playing field safe through the spring of 2025.
The turf is on the Bedford High School field formerly used almost exclusively for football, named in honor of Armand Sabourin, a BHS mathematics teacher who was head football coach from 1968 to 1999.
The turf on Sabourin Field replaced natural grass in 2013, which means this is its 11th year of use. Lacy told the Select Board the life span for that product is seven to eight years; the additional usability is primarily due to the quality of maintenance by the Department of Public Works, he said.
Lacy has been conducting safety checks on the field each year, usually in August, employing four performance quality standards and issuing a “report card.” His most recent check resulted in a grade of “D,” and that means the turf should be replaced within six months, he told the Select Board.
Replacement of the turf for about $1 million is on the long-range capital plan and is expected to be part of the Fiscal 2025 capital article, which, if approved, would mean replacement in the summer of 2025. There’s a companion proposal for replacement of the track.
Lacy said that schedule should be fine with more frequent maintenance. “Looking at recent patterns, by the end of next fall season, I think it will need replacing the following summer.
“The areas where we expected it to struggle have been consistent, but there are other good areas,” he reported.
In answer to a question from board member Shawn Hanegan, Lacy said synthetic turf technology has advanced since the original installation at Sabourin Field.
“The biggest difference is the way the fibers are stitched into the backing of the carpet,” he said, deterring separation, which can make the field unsafe.
Board member Margot Fleischman asked about alternatives to the resilient infill, usually “crumb rubber,” fragments recycled from vehicle tires. Lacy said an upgraded “shock pad” adds absorbency that allows alternatives to the rubber, such as a heavier product called Envirofill, coated silicon that is “very good at being stable.
“You don’t want it so soft that the athletes can’t gain traction,” he said. “It’s a balancing act to a point.”
Fleischman asked Lacy about steps the town can take in the interim to ensure safety.
“When a field gets to the condition your field is in, it’s just a lot more vigilance,” he replied. More maintenance is important “especially during high-usage time,” with “a watchful eye on condition of the carpet.
“If we look at the infill as the shock absorbency, the deal is to try to keep that in place as often as possible,” he continued. “Normally in a football game, there are certain areas where the infill will be out of place. You don’t need to buy infill; it’s redistributing it to the right areas. That would be a real help to prolonging the field.”
Asked by board member Emily Mitchell about synthetic turf temperature, Lacy confirmed that in response to direct sunlight, the product radiates heat up to two-and-a-half feet. He noted that infill products that don’t use rubber generate less heat.
Mitchell noted that a town-funded study of potential sites for additional synthetic turf was defeated at the 2022 Annual Town Meeting after concerns were expressed about toxicity and other environmental issues related to synthetic products. Recreation Director Josh Smith noted that the Recreation Commission authorized its own study, looking at four potential sites, with results expected soon.
The public works director, on request, estimated that the cost of replacing the current turf with natural grass would be about the same as installing a new synthetic surface, Mitchell said. Smith said that if Sabourin Field returns to grass, it would be used 60-70 percent less than currently, increasing demand on other grass fields “that we can’t keep up with now.”
“It would be lovely if there was a cost-effective, environmentally-friendly, not-hot turf field option that we could contemplate,” said Fleischman.
Asked by board member Paul Mortenson about field rental revenue, Smith said the demand by school and recreation programs is so strong that there is little free time for public use. Annual revenue is about $7,500, he said. Even a second turf field would offer only a few additional rental opportunities, he added.