Town Square

A pitch to head off artificial turf in Woodside

Original post made by Patrick Noonan, Woodside: other, on May 16, 2007

By Patrick Noonan
Am I the only person in Woodside who cares that soon two of our beautiful natural turf playing fields at the elementary school will be dug up and replaced with approximately 75,000 square feet of rubber and plastic several inches deep?
It’s artificial turf. Birds don’t like to land on it. There are no bees on it. There are no clover or dandelions on it. There is never the smell of fresh-cut grass. No white clover blossoms. There are no worms under it. Ladybugs who land on it don’t last long.
On the surface there are loose particles of rubber and silica sand, which hold up the plastic blades of grass. I wonder what will happen if some of the little creatures that live in our schoolyard eat the rubber. What if a first-grader drops a sandwich or an apple on the artificial turf and rubber particles stick to it? Will they be harmed if they accidentally eat it? What if a toddler watching a soccer game or on a weekend picnic picks up a handful of the loose rubber pellets from the top of the turf?
We are stealing something from the children. We are stealing the unique and wonderful experience of playing sports on natural turf. As adults we all have that memory and cherish it. I don’t understand why we would deny it to our children.
I console myself by saying that the children will still have the sky. We can’t take the sky away from them. But it’s not the top of the sky I’m worried about. It’s the top six feet of sky above the artificial turf. Plastic and rubber smell. And that smell is tiny particles.
On a hot day when the children are playing their hearts out and breathing as hard as they can, are they breathing something that may hurt them someday? How does the material age? What happens to it when it begins to break down?
The clue to the nature of artificial turf is that birds don’t like it. There’s nothing to eat there. It smells funny. So if birds don’t like it, why are we putting our treasure, our children, and in my case, grandchildren, on it?
You know if I saw animals on it in a zoo, I would feel sorry for them and complain to the zookeeper that it is cruel to separate living beings from the natural world.
Maybe if someone besides me contacts the school board and complains a little, the decision to renovate with artificial turf instead of natural turf may not be set in concrete.
Sooner or later we’re going to get fed up with the rubber and plastic fields, or some one will discover that maybe it’s harmful to our children. Then we’ll dig the stuff up, haul it off to the recycler and renovate with natural turf. Why not do it now before we pay for it?
The Woodside Elementary School board’s Web site is Web Link
-- Patrick Noonan, Glenwood Avenue, Woodside
This letter was published in the May 16, 2007, print edition of the Almanac.


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Posted by Bob
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Heights
on May 16, 2007 at 2:52 pm

While I prefer good natural grass, the sad fact is that in order to keep the grass in good shape it cannot be used much of the time. It needs time to rest between games, cannot be used when its raining, or has rained recently, or been watered a lot, etc. The artificial turf fields are MUCH better than bad grass fields, and can be used 100% of the time. In my mind, that more than offsets the slightly better state of GOOD grass fields.

My 5 year old daughter and 4 year old son both play on the grass fields at Woodside elementary and the artificial turf at Woodside high now, and have since they were born, and I'm more worried about sprained/broken ankles due to holes in the natural turf than swallowing a rubber pellet from the artificial one. By all means let's steal the sensation of breaking your ankle in a gopher hole from all future generations.
My main complaint with artificial turf is it does get warmer in the sun, but nothing's perfect.


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Posted by Manfred Kopisch
a resident of Laurel School
on May 16, 2007 at 3:24 pm

Manfred Kopisch is a registered user.


We had the same issue recently in Menlo Park, where the Menlo Park School District wanted to put artificial turf at Encinal Elementary School. Many parents felt exactly like you and didn't want their children to play on artificial turf with all its downsides. The parents started an online petition and got over 300 signatures in roughly two weeks. Over 30 parents showed up at the Menlo Park City council and spoke up against artificial turf at the elementary school. As a result the city council voted against contributing money towards artificial turf at our elementary school. Furthermore Ken Ranella, the superintendent of the MPCSD, assured these parents at the City Council meeting that no artificial turf would be put in at any elementary school in Menlo Park and took that topic off the school board meeting agenda.
What was important in our efforts in Menlo Park was to not only complain individually, but also act as a group. The online-petition was the glue that showed everyone how many people are really against artificial turf at our elementary schools. That way everyone knew who else didn't want it and could talk to them. Otherwise these complaints would have been individual calls or emails to the school board without knowledge about each other.

Good Luck in your efforts,


P.S.: You might want to check this link out for some information Web Link

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Posted by Youth Coach
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on May 16, 2007 at 4:55 pm

The underlying assumption of the argument for natural grass is that the natural grass fields are maintained and built as true playing fields. This is not the case at Woodside or any of the other elementary school fields in our area. The fields as currently maintained are dangerous and not appropriate for any sports. They all have big holes, uneven grass, and are over watered and muddy. It would take money, time and sustained commitment to maintain these fields properly. All of the towns in our region have demonstrated a lack of commitment and a shortage in resources to adequately maintain the natural grass fields. No one is going to wave a magic wand and make this situation change. It is the natural state of a bureaucracy to do nothing. A proper natural grass field is designed with sand under layers, proper drainage, etc. The only field like this in the area is the Burgess Recreation field. None of the elementary school budgets have allocated for building properly designed natural grass playing fields. We are better off with synthetic turf that than bad natural grass.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on May 16, 2007 at 7:10 pm

It is far cheaper to put in a properly maintained natural grass playing field than it is to put in artificial turf. Those fields have to be replaced every 7 years or so--you must factor that into costs. Then it's 4 times as much as natural grass!

They are bad for the environment. Do you have any idea what kind of chemicals they need cleaning with and how often? Bad stuff. Not good for little kids.

They have no place at an elementary school. That's incredibly selfish of soccer parents to ask school children to play on those, or expect the community to walk their dogs on them after school or play frisbee and have a soda on them. Oh, you watch what a disgusting thing that "carpet" will be out there in Woodside, with bird crap, oppossum vomit, skunk spray, blood, spit, gum soda, etc all maddded into it! There's yer playin' field folks!

Those crazy soccer parents are out to pave paradise--we should let them. They deserve what they'll get. But then the kids need their field protected.

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Posted by back to nature
a resident of Woodside: other
on May 17, 2007 at 1:36 am

I completely agree that we must put a stop to anything that is unnatural, but we should really go further than just prohibiting artificial turf on playing fields. We should return all the school fields (and people's lawns as well) to their natural condition by prohibiting the unnatural watering and fertilizing that is destroying our environment. We should only allow native plants that can survive without human intervention. If these SUV loving Woodside parents are so in need of fields for their spoiled little kids to run and play, they should move to a place where fields are natural to the environment.

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Posted by Manfred Kopisch
a resident of Laurel School
on May 17, 2007 at 3:50 pm

Manfred Kopisch is a registered user.

Youth Coach,

I don't know how the field in Woodside will be financed and what its price tag is. What we found in Menlo Park is that putting in the artificial turf is so much more expensive that you can afford "platinum level" maintenance for a natural grass field by putting the difference in cost into the bank and using the interest for maintenance of the natural grass field.

So instead of paying for an expensive artificial turf field that has a life span of roughly 8 years you could maintain a natural grass field "forever" and still have the money.



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Posted by Jon
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on May 17, 2007 at 6:45 pm

Ideally, we'd only have natural grass fields. They're better to look at and better to play on (though all weather fields have improved dramatically over the years). There are reasons to have all weather fields, though, and in this case, they're needed.

The primary advantage of an all weather field is that they can be used more. There's a growing demand for field space, and we want to provide as much opportunity as possible for our children (and their parents) to participate in sports in order to have a happy, healthy community.

As strange as it may seem, all weather fields are lower cost and better for the environment. The initial costs are higher, but the maintenance costs are much lower. There's no mowing, watering, aerating, fertilizing, or lining. Environmental studies indicate that the fertilization and watering needed to maintain a natural grass field in safe playing condition is worse for the environment than an all weather field.

There are many individuals and organization donating money to Woodside Elementary School in order to help alleviate the initial costs of the all weather field and to ensure we have more field availability.

We'd all like to have as much open space and as much natural fields as possible, but just as we need gyms and playgrounds for our children, we also need more field availability, and that's what all weather fields provide.

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Posted by Youth Coach
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on May 18, 2007 at 9:43 am

The natural grass proponents miss the point. You say "platinum level maintenance" will allow the natural grass to perform better than turf. My point is that natural grass field maintenance requires sustained and diligent activity by dedicated staff. No matter how much money you have in the bank, the town departments in charge of this "platinum level" maintenance have already demonstrated and continue to demonstrate the inability to spend or maintain the fields that we do have in any reasonable shape. It’s not about money. It’s about human nature and the demonstrated performance of our town bureaucracies. With infinite money they would still let the natural grass fields degrade and become unplayable. Additionally, the town councils will dip into the "platinum level maitenance accoutnts" to fund other activities unrelated to fields. Better to have something that requires no action on the part of the maintenance departments. They continually deomnstrated that they do not have the ability maintain fields properly.

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Posted by Future soccer mom
a resident of Woodside: other
on May 21, 2007 at 4:07 pm

Why does the town have anything to do with the funding of field maintenance? I thought this was about the field at Woodside Elementary.

Shouldn't you be bashing the school district bureaucracy? Or does the town pay for its maintenance, for some reason?

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Posted by also a soccer mom
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 22, 2007 at 8:22 am

Even with the best and most expensive possible maintenance, grass fields can't be used nearly as much. The City of Menlo Park staff analysis showed that turf fields are playable 100 more days per year than grass! At Stanford, only game fields are grass because they can restrict usage; that is why Stanford's practice fields are all turf. The reason that so many fields are in dangerous, rutted condition is that they are overused. The only solution is to significantly limit usage or install turf.

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Posted by Angela Hey
a resident of Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on May 29, 2007 at 3:09 pm

We grew up playing on muddy fields in the UK - that's part of the sport - they can be reseeded at the end of the season if necessary - if someone slips and falls too bad. Its way better than getting grazed on artificial turf - don't be soft or precious - mud is jolly good fun!