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Whiteland looks to join artificial surface club

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Grass is fast becoming an unwelcome sight on high school football fields — at least in Johnson County.

Last week, ground crews from Clark-Pleasant schools spent much of their time at Whiteland Community High School, cutting and painting the grass at the football stadium in preparation for the team’s home opener against Center Grove High School.

The football team and marching band were unable to use the field in the stadium before the game on Friday. If they had, the ground crews would’ve had to return to the field to repeat their work.

“It’s one of those things that people just stay off of it, because they know it’s going to get heavy use during a short period of time throughout the year,” Superintendent Patrick Spray said.

Clark-Pleasant officials believe they could save on maintenance costs and give students more time to practice in the stadium by replacing the grass with artificial turf. The artificial turf would cost Clark-Pleasant about $585,000, and school officials pitched the project to the school board as part of $4 million athletics facilities upgrade last week.

If the board approves the project, Whiteland would become the fourth area high school to use artificial turf in its football stadium. Center Grove was the first high school in the state to purchase artificial turf for its stadium 11 years ago and has replaced it once.

Greenwood and Franklin Community High Schools also use artificial turf.

If Whiteland makes the switch, that would leave only Edinburgh and Indian Creek relying on grass.

Across the state, fewer than 20 percent of high schools with a football team have artificial turf, according to data reported to the Indiana High School Athletic Association.

Officials from local school districts have said the artificial turf is easier and less expensive to maintain. In 2012, Center Grove officials said they saved nearly $27,000 in annual maintenance costs for the football stadium, while Franklin officials said they saved roughly $14,000 in maintenance costs.

“It’s just a much better surface than what we had before,” Greenwood athletics director Pete Huse said. “If I had my way, I’d turf everything.”

Greenwood Community High School added artificial turf to its football stadium in 2012. Before the switch, maintenance crews spent ample time each week watering, cutting and painting lines to prepare the field for football games, Huse said. The football team, band and other athletes had to stay off the grass, so that it wasn’t torn up on Friday nights in the fall, Huse said.

Artificial turf means that Greenwood coaches can work with athletes in small groups running different drills throughout the week. The artificial turf is also safer. When Greenwood’s stadium had grass, the field could get very hard if too much time passed without rain, Huse said.

Clark-Pleasant officials are hopeful that artificial turf will last at least 10 years. Huse also wants to get at least 10 years out of Greenwood’s turf, and he’s hopeful it could last as long as 15 years.

Center Grove High School, which purchased its first artificial turf in 2003, also hoped to get 15 years out of the surface. But the school district had to replace the football stadium’s surface last year.

Most of the money for the new turf came from a 10-year, $650,000 advertising agreement Center Grove reached with Indiana University Health.

Once an artificial field’s rubber starts toughening and crews start seeing fibers coming easily out of the ground, they know it’s time to start saving for new turf. Once those signs of wear and tear start, Huse said, the turf is usually good for another two to three years, meaning the school district will have time to save money.

“Turf isn’t something where suddenly within a year it goes bad,” he said.

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