The soccer field used by the Center Grove soccer teams will be getting a long-desired overhaul before the start of next season.

Earlier this month, the Center Grove school board unanimously approved paying $794,000 to install an artificial turf field at the athletics complex located on the north side of Center Grove Elementary School, where the high school varsity boys and girls teams play.

The project is expected to be completed in late spring or early summer, before the 2018 season. It is the district’s second artificial playing surface; the high school football field was converted to turf in 2003.

The field is being paid for with money left over from the construction of the new Walnut Grove Elementary School, school spokesperson Stacy Conrad said. Site work for the new school is underway and costs are still being finalized, but the school district expects to have up to $6 million left.

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Officials say that the upgraded field, which also will be used by the lacrosse club in the spring, will help reduce the number of game cancellations due to unplayable field conditions and cut the costs of mowing, seeding and repairs.

Center Grove will be the first school in the county with a separate artificial surface for soccer. Greenwood plays its soccer games on the school’s turf football field, while Franklin, Greenwood Christian and Whiteland all play their matches on grass.

Most of the Trojans’ opponents in the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference also play on their schools’ turf football fields. Carmel is the only one of those schools with a separate artificial surface for soccer.

Center Grove’s board approved the move to turf due in large part to the challenges the school had faced in recent years in maintaining the grass field. More than 50 games have been canceled in the past 13 years, though many of those were due to the weather at game time, Conrad said.

The school district was spending an average of $28,000 a year to keep the varsity pitch playable.

“I think they spent over $15,000 in grass seed just last year,” said Center Grove boys soccer coach Jameson McLaughlin, who had been pushing for a switch to turf for several years. “When you start to add that up year after year, it just makes more sense to put (turf) in.”

The estimated yearly maintenance cost for the new turf will be about $250 — the amount that the school currently pays to apply two coats of disinfectant and vacuum five times per year on its turf football field. The soccer field turf would have a warranty for eight years and is expected to last 10 and 12 years, Conrad said.

The cost of turf is greater than the maintenance costs for a grass field, but the major benefit of that cost is that the school and the community will be able to get much more use out of the artificial field, Center Grove athletics director Jon Zwitt said.

“It’s not going to save you any money at all,” Zwitt said. “But the fact that now we can use it for 1,000 hours a year versus 66 hours a year, that’s the difference.”

Before artificial turf was installed on the football field, that grass surface was only able to be used for 66 hours a year — one hour a week for the band, a weekly Thursday walk-through for the football team, and home games, Zwitt said.

Now, that turf surface is used regularly throughout the year, not only for football, band and track when those activities are in season but also for offseason conditioning workouts.

The grass soccer field had become so delicate in recent seasons that neither the boys nor the girls were allowed to practice on it. Practices are done on adjacent fields to minimize the wear and tear on the field. And even with those precautions being taken, the main field couldn’t regenerate enough grass during the offseason to remain playable throughout the fall.

“By the time sectionals rolled around, there was no grass on it,” head girls soccer coach Mike Bishop said. “It was just dirt, and it was lumpy at best.”

With turf, that won’t be an issue. McLaughlin and Bishop said that the surface will cover a large enough area — an estimated 280 feet by 405 feet — for the boys and girls teams to split the field and share it for practices when needed.

The field also can be used for lacrosse in the spring, as well as offseason soccer workouts. Officials added that the South Central Soccer Academy, which has a complex of natural grass fields in Bargersville, also will be able use the turf for tournaments when it’s available.

McLaughlin also is excited about being able to host additional activities that weren’t feasible before, such as an annual alumni game.

The change will also make the field more compatible with his team’s style of play, he said.

“We don’t put the ball in the air very much,” he said. “To have a field that has potholes in it doesn’t help the way we play at all.”

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Ryan O'Leary is sports editor for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at roleary@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2715.