LOGO - Livermore Area Recreation & Park District LARPD

LIVERMORE — Local athletes will enjoy brand new playing surfaces on two popular sports fields after the Livermore Area Recreation and Park District (LARPD) Board of Directors authorized the replacement of aging synthetic turf at Robertson Park.

At its Dec. 8 meeting, the board unanimously approved the expenditure of up to $1.75 million dollars for the effort. Preliminary estimates that the district has received so far put the cost between $1.3 million and $1.5 million for the pair of multi-use sports fields.

As Fred Haldeman, LARPD parks and facilities manager, noted in the staff report, the synthetic fields currently at Robertson Park were originally opened for use in October 2012.

“These fields have been a great boon to the athletes of Livermore for over nine years, but they are showing their age,” he stated.

The report further noted that turf fibers have worn down by three-quarters of an inch. In April, both fields failed the GMAX test, which measures the ability of the playing surface to absorb kinetic energy, such as from a player falling to the surface. A high GMAX score means that the player absorbs more impact, increasing chances of injury. In response, the district performed maintenance on the fields, and both fields passed subsequent tests. However, that solution is only temporary, because the fields have already exceeded their expected eight-year useful life.

“(The fields) currently meet the standard because we did the maintenance work,” LARPD General Manager Mathew Fuzie said. “We anticipate that it won’t be long before the maintenance work won’t keep it at the standard. That’s why we want to do the fields now.”

Work is expected to take four to six weeks to complete. A firm date to start the project has not yet been determined. The district expects it will commence in July or August as field use is low during that time of the year, though Haldeman noted it could be sooner.

There are three components to the playing surface: the turf, a pad and underfill. The current fields do not have a pad and the inclusion in the update is expected to improve the GMAX scores for the fields. The underfill is a mixture of shredded rubber from automobile tires called

crumb rubber and sand. Crumb rubber accounts for about 70% of the underfill, and the sand makes up the remaining 30%.

The use of synthetic turf is not without its critics, a point Director David Furst made.

“There’s been a lot of concern in the community, specifically the girls’ soccer community, about cancer-causing agents in the turf,” he said. “Are we specifically using products that are going to keep our athletes safe?”

Haldeman said that concern hadn’t been part of the project’s consideration up to that point, but he committed to researching the issue. In a follow-up interview with The Independent this week, Haldeman said the studies he’d found showed that there’s no direct correlation between any health concerns and the crumb rubber infill or the monofilament fibers.

“We’ve had a lot of success with the sand and rubber infill. We’ve not received any complaints or concerns from the user groups,” he continued. “That would be my primary motivator. If our user groups were claiming that they really felt they were unsafe or that they didn’t want to be on this product, that would weigh on my decision more. Right now, I’m going with the evidence supported within the industry that says there’s no problem with it. We still haven’t made up our mind yet.”

He added that there are organic infill options like cork, walnut shells and coconut coir, though some of these require ongoing maintenance, in addition to adding about $200,000 to the cost of the construction.

During the meeting, Director Jan Palajac inquired about the source of the funding for the project.

“We’re feeling comfortable, Director Palajack, that from a cash perspective, we can move forward and not endanger ourselves in any fashion,” said Jeffrey Schneider, LARPD administrative services manager. “We’re not feeling that we need to look to the vendors, perhaps to finance, nor go to the banks to obtain a loan to finance this effort …We’re feeling comfortable that the way we’re managing our business and our cash balances as we speak today that we can fund these projects out of our cash balance.”