Artificial field turf becoming a reality

HUNTLEY – Huntley might become the envy of McHenry County football teams by this fall.

District 158 is moving toward installing synthetic artificial turf for its football field, which would make Huntley the first school in the county to have a synthetic turf. Such a surface, which is costly to purchase, would provide numerous advantages regarding usage and be relatively inexpensive to maintain.

Huntley District 158 School Board President Don Drzal said the board hopes to vote on bids for that improvement, along with irrigation systems for the baseball, soccer and softball fields, at its March meeting. The purchase of the FieldTurf and lettering would cost just more than $513,000, not counting installation, drainage or fees, according to a document the school board will discuss to Thursday night’s meeting.

The field is part of a project that includes more stadium seating and a built-in irrigation system for the school’s baseball and soccer fields, all with the goal of completion in early August. Drzal said that he is hoping for a bid on the entire athletic portion of the project that would be around $1 million of the entire $10 million project.

“We’re pretty much on board with it,” Drzal said. “The football field is used on game days, but it’s under-utilized. With synthetic turf, you can use it so much more. In January, our Huntley 3000 Committee presented something to the board that showed the field is actually used for less than 200 hours. It’s projected with synthetic turf, it could be used more than 2,000 hours.”

Drzal said the field is not used at all in the summer because it needs preparation for the fall football season. With synthetic turf, it could be used for all kinds of other sports and events. Huntley athletic director Michelle Jakubowski said the school could rent the field for youth football, soccer or lacrosse programs.

Red Raiders football coach John Hart, who came to Huntley from Warren Central, Ind. last year, staunchly believes synthetic turf also cuts down on injuries.

“Our injuries were few and far between [at Warren Central],” Hart said. “There’s a lot of give-and-take with turf. You don’t get the stick-in-the-ground-and-get-hit that you do on grass. Joints get more relief and I think it reduces concussions. Most concussions happen when the player’s head hits the ground. The turf is not as hard.”

Hart declined to comment on whether the turf installation was discussed during his interviews last spring. Drzal sees various reasons why the district should install turf.

“Synthetic turf is just far more practical [than staying with grass],” he said.

Huntley’s enrollment for this year is 2,383 (actually the number from late September in 2011). The district expects to hit 3,000 students within a few years, which is another reason Drzal likes the idea of installing turf. And if the improvements are approved, Huntley also will increase its season capacity for the football field.

“The 900 seats we have on the home side just won’t be enough,” he said. “My guess is we may see something in March. We can’t go past April. We’ll need maybe four months to get it done so everything is in place for next season.”

Jakubowski has spoken with other schools that have turf fields about how they utilize their facilities. She agreed that the maintenance costs, which virtually are eliminated with synthetic turf, would amount to a significant savings over a few years.

“It’s exciting for the high school, the community and everyone,” Jakubowski said. “It still has to be voted on, but if we get the opportunity, it’s a win-win for everybody.”

The district received about $39 million back from a state construction grant, money that Drzal said would go back into the district’s development fund. The board would like to use about $10 million of that, with a portion going to athletics for the proposed synthetic turf field and irrigation improvements. He said no major improvements have been made on any of those fields since 2005 or before.

“This came into play with us in the fall when we received the grant money,” Drzal said. “We thought about what improvements could be made for 3,000 students. In the environment we’re in, there are some advantages to turf. We came to how to improve our football field, which has been on the list for some time.”

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