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Published: Wednesday, 8/19/2009

Ottawa Hills athletic field now covered with artificial turf surface


Recycled soda-pop bottles will add some spring to the steps of Ottawa Hills football, soccer, and field hockey players this year.

The newly installed artificial-turf surface on the football field at Ottawa Hills Junior-Senior High School also will make the field more durable and usable year-round - whenever it isn't covered with snow or ice - by both schoolchildren and recreational athletes, local officials said last week.

"We had so much use here, we couldn't keep it in playable condition," Cathleen Heidelberg, the Ottawa Hills superintendent of schools, said to explain the decision early this year to switch from natural grass to artificial turf.

"It's hard to hit pop-ups and work your outfielders in a gym," Tim Erickson, the Ottawa Hills schools' athletic director, said to cite an example of how the artificial-turf football field will even help the baseball and softball teams in March.

While the artificial surface cost about $656,000, or more than five times the $120,000 cost of re-sodding, the latter would last for only a few years, Ms. Heidelberg said - and its non-game use would have remained limited, especially when wet.

More than half the field's installation cost was paid for with donated funds, both private and from organizations like the local sports boosters, parent-teacher organization, Mothers' Support Group, and the Ottawa Hills Foundation. Ms. Heidelberg especially credited John Day and Sandy Brown, head of the athletic boosters' Grassroots Turf Project, with spearheading the fund-raising campaign.

The school district and the village each paid $150,000, with the village's contribution supporting continuing field use by youth soccer teams and other non-school sports activities. School funds came from the district's permanent-improvements money.

The use of Eco-Fill, a recycled material made from recycled pop bottles, on top of a layer of sand made the turf about $100,000 pricier than it would have been using a traditional beaded-rubber base, but it is ecologically friendly and, being green, also doesn't absorb as much heat as the black rubber would, Mr. Erickson said.

"Eco-Fill can be vacuumed up, recycled, and reused, so you have a lower replacement cost after 10-12 years," the athletic director said, noting that spent rubber from such a field has to be disposed of as a hazardous waste.

"Many members of the community were very adamant about using an environmentally friendly in-fill," Ms. Heidelberg said. "But this is not something the school district would have been able to do on its own."

While other Toledo-area school districts also have installed artificial-turf athletic fields, Ms. Heidelberg said the one in Ottawa Hills is believed to be the first to use Eco-Fill. School officials visited Ferris State University, in Big Rapids, Mich., to observe what was, at the time, the field of that kind closest to Toledo.

Mr. Erickson said it is now his turn to be hosting visitors.

"It's been a lot of fun for me the last two weeks," he said. "People are really fascinated by it. We've had a lot of inquiries from other schools that are interested in installing this turf."

A.J. Longthorne, a junior lineman on the Ottawa Hills football team, said during practice on a warm day last week that while the field was "a little hot" compared with natural grass, it was easier to run on because players didn't have to worry about uneven spots in the ground.

"It plays faster. It's a nice field, its cushion is good, and it feels good," the Longthorne boy said. "You don't have to worry about potholes."

Mr. Erickson said there have been unanticipated benefits, too, like the remark from school custodians that they'll no longer spend hours cleaning mud out of school locker rooms after football games on rainy nights.

And Jim Walter, an athletic booster and member of Ottawa Hills Village Council, said the football field's upgrade will be good for the softball fields at the school, too: the football team will use the softball field as its practice field far less often.

The first game on the new field will be the football team's home opener on Sept. 4. The boosters will hold a dedication ceremony, complete with fireworks, and distribute turf samples to the spectators, Mr. Walter said.

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