Juneau carpets its `Field of Dreams`

Artificial turf comes to Adair-Kennedy

Posted: Sunday, June 04, 2000

Football players called the hard, sandy field at Adair-Kennedy Park ``The Sandbox.'' Others -- perhaps referring to the bits of glass, seashells, driftwood and rocks that dotted the field -- called it the ``Juneau Litter Box.''

But by August, perhaps it will be called Juneau's ``Field of Dreams.''

On Monday, construction begins to replace the glacial sand field of Adair-Kennedy Park with AstroPlay, a synthetic grass surface made by Southwest Recreational Industries, the makers of AstroTurf.

If AstroTurf is like the carpet you might wipe your shoes on, AstroPlay is like a soft, shag rug. It is made up of 2 1/2-inch tall synthetic ``grass'' fibers, filled with tiny rubber granules made of ground-up recycled tires for extra shock absorbency. In appearance and play, it is very similar to grass.

``It's almost impossible to tell it's not real grass,'' project engineer Rod Wilson said. ``They've come a long way since they stretched a piece of carpet over a slab of concrete.''

``Concrete'' is how the current surface at Adair-Kennedy field is often described. Though no statistics exist to support it, coaches have voiced fears the field causes injuries.

``I'd say a couple of concussions could be attributed to it, and probably more broken bones and dislocations because of this field,'' Juneau-Douglas High School football coach Reilly Richey said. ``It was rock hard. It really compromised safety. It was a hard surface to land on. Depending on the weather, sometimes it was as hard as concrete. It was rough.''

``The first time I saw it, it was a major shock,'' Juneau-Douglas High School soccer coach Gary Lehnhart said. ``But it had amazing resiliency. After huge downpours, a half-hour later it'd be reasonably dry. Other than what we're getting, it's the best field we could have.''

Lehnhart said his team didn't have injury problems because of the field, but he's looking forward to the new one. Both Lehnhart and Richey have taken their teams to play on the FieldTurf at Anchorage Football Stadium, which is similar to AstroPlay.

``It's a little slower, which is better for soccer because the ball doesn't play through so quickly,'' said Lehnhart, comparing FieldTurf to Adair-Kennedy.

Troy Squires, the director of marketing for SRI, said AstroPlay's performance is very similar to grass in the way the ball bounces and rolls, and how it looks and feels.

Richey said he was impressed with the FieldTurf at Anchorage Football Stadium.

``If you stood on the track you'd think it was a grass field if no one told you,'' Richey said. ``It'd be fun to blindfold someone and let them run around and see if they could tell it was real grass.''

The main difference between AstroPlay and FieldTurf is it uses compacted gravel instead of sand, said Wilson, the project engineer. The gravel drains vertically, and up to 20 inches of water can run through it per hour, he said at a meeting last March.

``You shouldn't see any standing water on this field,'' Wilson said. ``The blades of grass will still be wet but you won't see any puddles.''

Squires said a gravel base, unlike sand, will also resist hardening.

``The sand gets tighter and tighter,'' Squires said. SRI has used sand bases in other projects. ``We found it worked great the first year, then we had customers calling back saying `Hey, this isn't as soft as it used to be.'''

Another difference is a layer of nylon-weave material between the turf and gravel that helps lock in the rubber granules and gives extra shock absorbency.

Richey said he believes the field will be safer than AstroTurf, which has been lambasted by many professional football coaches and players for causing knee injuries. AstroTurf is a common field surface throughout the National Football League.

``(Synthetic grass) has the same torque release as a grass field,'' Richey said. ``So you don't have the blown-out knees that you had on AstroTurf. It's not as fast, but it's like a very fast grass field.''

Real Madrid, the current European Cup soccer champions, has two AstroPlay fields. Other AstroPlay fields include the site of the next World Cup in Sapporo, Japan, and Memorial Stadium at the University of Kansas.

Squires said the field will take some time to break in. After the first games on FieldTurf at Anchorage Football Stadium, players said they were covered by the rubber granules. Squires said the granules will eventually settle.

AstroPlay has an eight-year warranty, but it should last much longer because UV radiation is the chief enemy, which is not exactly a problem in rain-forested Juneau, Squires said. He added that it has no materials that can rot or mildew.

Squires said he believed the old turf at Anchorage Football Stadium, which was replaced last year after 17 years, benefited from the relatively small amounts of UV exposure.

``It could last a long time,'' Squires said. ``The turf in Anchorage lasted twice as long as most people thought it would.''

A rubber-tipped snowplow will be used to clear the top layers of snow. The top couple of inches are then brushed off or left to melt, Squires said.

Other surfaces were considered, including FieldTurf, Juneau Parks and Recreation director Kim Keifer said. Juneau-based Arete Construction wanted to use AstroPlay and gave the lowest bid, and was awarded the job, she said.

Wilson said Aug. 1 is the expected completion date, just in time for the Juneau-Douglas High School football team's first game against Chugiak on Aug. 25. The track at Adair-Kennedy will be closed for public use until the field is installed.

The $826,980 project is part of Proposition 3, a voter-approved sales tax for various recreational improvements around Juneau.

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