NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Student athletes and fans of the New Brunswick High School Zebras can expect to have a new athletics field at Memorial Stadium around the beginning of the school year.
In March, the New Brunswick Board of Education and the city government approved a shared services agreement, splitting the $1.03 million costs of renovating the facility on Joyce Kilmer Avenue.
At the same time, the City Council awarded contracts to two companies, Landtek and FieldTurf, to dig up the natural grass field and replace it with an artificial turf, as well as make upgrades to the stadium's bleachers and drainage.
"We are going to purchase the actual artificial turf directly from the manufacturer, FieldTurf, using the KeyStone purchasing cooperative of which we are a member of," said New Brunswick Business Administrator Thomas Loughlin.
A $115,000 contract was awarded by the City Council on April 15 to Suburban Consulting Engineers, who would handle "construction, inspection and engineering" at Memorial Stadium. At their next meeting, the Council awarded a $109,000 contract to Fieldturf, the company that makes the artificial surface.
The Georgia-based company provides artificial turf for many sports field across the United States, including the field at Rutgers Stadium in Piscataway.
While natural turf consists of live grass that requires mowing, reseeding and watering, artificial turf has synthetic fibers made to look like actual grass and requires little maintenance.
For decades, debates have carried on between advocates of natural and artificial turf over which is more cost-effective, longer-lasting, and likely to cut down on athletic injuries.
Approximately 4,500 sports stadiums in the United States now use artificial fields, but there are health concerns associated with them.
The artificial field use a material called butadiene rubber, or "crumb rubber," small black pellets spread all across the artificial turf field. The pellets are used as "infill" between the artificial fibers to provide stability, resiliency and uniformity in the field.
An NBC News report titled "How Safe Is the Artificial Turf Your Child Plays On?" delved into the possible link between the artificial turf's crumb rubber and cancer.
The report focused of several members of the University of Washington's women's soccer team who were diagnosed with blood cancers like lymphoma and leukemia, all of whom were goalkeepers who had the highest degrees of skin contact with the articial turf.
Athletes who play on the artificial turf often report that the "little black beads" would get everywhere, on players' clothing, and in their eyes, nose, mouth and ears.
The Environmental Protection Agency has pointed out that the tires used to produce the beads contain mercury, lead, benzene, polycyclic, heavy metals, aromatic hydrocarbons, and arsenic.
Darren Gill, vice president of marketing at FieldTurf, assured the end product is safe.
"If you look at the ingredients that go into a car tire, some people take those ingredients and turn them into health concerns," Gill told NBC News, "But after the vulcanization process, those ingredients are inert."
The Synthetic Turf Council, an industry group which represents the interests of artificial turf companies, reiterated the stance that the crumb rubber and artificial turf fields were safe.
"We've got 14 studies on our website that says we can find no negative health effects," Dr. Davis Lee, a Turf Council board member, told NBC News.
The Millburn Board of Education stood behind the use of artificial tur, having helped cover $100,000 of the $400,000 synthetic turf installation for the high school.
Regina Truitt, a member of the Millburn Board of Education, raised concerns at an April meeting about several of the negative health effects, including a report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and a 2011 study by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP).
"Both inhalable particulate matter, as well as inhalable lead (when present) are re-suspended from even minor physical activity on an artificial surface," the study states, adding that human exposure toxic levels of the lead-containing turf is not only through skin contact.
Athletics Director Ted D’Alessio stood behind other members of their board in support of the installation of the artificial turf, citing a preliminary survey done of the athletic field by the municipal engineer.
"We’re in our ninth year and it’s showing signs of wear and tear at the seams," D'Alessio told The Record. "Fibers are coming out from the turf itself."
On May 11, the Millburn school district's Business Administrator Steven DiGeronimo gave a presentation featuring studies from over 30 organizations that found no correlations between the use of artificial turf and negative health effects.
Studies included those from the CDC, the New Jersey Department of Health and the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection.
"One can find hype and alarm, when we’re talking about children, but there is no conclusive proof," DiGeronimo said at the meeting.
He further argued against the use of the grass field, telling attendees that, "There is not a good track record for removing turf and replacing it with grass."
City officials in New Brunswick pointed out that since the artificial turf is more durable and longer-lasting, more teams would theoretically be able to use the field.
Memorial Stadium is still the only football field in New Brunswick, but thanks to the artificial turf, more teams will be able to use it, according to Acting Athletics Director Bob Thomas said.
"We have middle school, freshmen, junior varsity and varsity teams that must use it for their games," Thomas told New Brunswick Today.
"We then have middle school, junior varsity, varsity, and probably freshmen boys and girls soccer teams that need to play games," he added, but wrote that it will likley only be the varsity soccer teams that would be able to use the artificial field.
"The field will have enough of our games scheduled on it that it would rarely be available for those same teams to practice. We have alternate practice sites for all teams."
Work has already begun on the field at Memorial Stadium, which has been dug up.
The bleachers at Memorial Stadium will also be renovated, though it is uncertain if this would be completed in time for the beginning of the football season in September 2015. Landtek would handle the renovation and addition of the new bleachers.
The expectation among the City Council and Board of Education is that while the bleachers might not be completed in time for the 2015 football season, renovations on the football field would at least by finished in time for October at the latest.
"The bleachers is a seperate project altogether, but the playing fields and the track should be ready for competition in September," said Loughlin.
"We have asked the Board [of Education] just to be prepared should we run into a problem in the field or should the construction lag in any way, please be prepared to matybe schedule the first four [football] games of the season as away games should we meet a little delay in the month of September, and they're on board with that."
"We are going to try to push that as fast as we can this summer," Loughlin added at a City Council meeting.
"There's no guarantee that this will be completed by September, but we believe the bleacher complex as it is today can accomodate fans, it's just not as polished as we'd like it to be."