By: Jeffery Xiang — Editor-in-Chief
Constituents at the 2020 Sharon town meeting passed a three-year moratorium on turf fields in Sharon over environmental concerns.
A turf field at the high school stadium field was originally proposed as part of the new school construction. But a citizen’s petition objecting to the proposal was brought to town meeting, and the article passed with a majority of votes. As a result, no artificial turf fields may be installed in all of Sharon for the next three years.
Besides the vote at the town meeting, school committee member Julie Rowe says that the science was discussed at many public meetings throughout 2020. She added that tests were completed on the recommended products for the turf.
“The school building project team hired a landscape architect, an independent consultant, and then another independent consultant. They concluded that the recommended products would not have posed a significant risk of contaminating runoff and that any runoff from the fields would not flow towards the capture basins of the Sharon public water supply,” said Rowe.
Dr. Nick Schlierf, the athletic director at SHS, said that the turf issue was also brought up to town committees, with the Town Conservation Committee voting 5-2 against allowing turf. He adds that they rejected the turf field proposal in the new high-school building plan because of “the exact stadium location on campus, which is on/bordering zoned wetlands.”
Paul Lauenstein, a Sharon Resident and member of the Sustainable Sharon Coalition, said that the high school borders Cedar Swamp which feeds the underwater springs that bring water to Lake Massapoag. He said that other bodies of water that lead to Lake Massapoag and are used for our drinking water could be at risk.
“There is also a real risk of contaminating our drinking water wells along nearby Beaver Brook, which supply about 2/3 of our drinking water. There is enough releasable PFAS, a toxic forever chemical, in a plastic field to contaminate up to 8 bodies of water the size of Lake Massapoag,” said Lauenstein.
Lauenstein adds that other areas of Sharon are also susceptible to pollution, saying “Sharon’s interconnected groundwater aquifers underlie much of the town, and most of the possible locations for an athletic field are located above groundwater aquifers.”
Rowe says that there would not be a significant risk because newer materials, such as a recycled wood product, would be used instead of rubber crumb, providing benefits such as temperature regulation while minimizing the risk involved.
While there are potential dangers to Lake Massapoag with the current plan, sophomore soccer player Matt Baur said that a change to the location of the field should have been considered. “A member of the conservation committee said that if the field was put farther than 75 feet from the wetland, then the conservation committee had no say in what happened, but when that point was brought up, it was ignored. I don’t think it should’ve been ignored, and they should’ve just changed the plans,” he said.
Baur added that there are benefits to turf. “Turf is nice because there are no bumps and it is easily maintained. Turf is good for soccer because it is very smooth.”
Junior Brady Daylor agreed, “An advantage is that for lacrosse it provides more bounce when shooting bounce shots. Also, everything feels faster on turf, you’re able to cut harder and move quicker. Playing on natural grass just doesn’t give you the same feather-foot feeling.”
Senior football player Ike Ogbonanze said that turf has many advantages. “It’s easy to maintain, lasts longer, ensures more playing time regardless of sport, and can be used year round,” said Ogbonanze.
Besides these advantages, Schlierf added that turf is much more reliable, especially in the long term. He says that turf offers a guaranteed schedule by removing rainouts, does not require the DPW to paint the fields twice per week for game days due to having permanent lines, and does not require weekly mowing, painting, weeding, fertilizing, and irrigation. Besides requiring less maintenance, turf also holds up better.
“It will take 10 years of games and practices to show traffic wear in high play areas such as the soccer/lacrosse goal boxes and football field between the hash marks, while our grass fields show serious wear and damage in just 10 weeks of games only on grass; high-upfront cost to install but over the 10-years of wear balances out. Having turf would also allow PE/Wellness classes to utilize the field as much as they want with no harm to the game-only grass surface currently used,” explained Schlierf.
Schlierf added, “we are the only school of the 12 Hockomock League schools to not have a turf field surface, and every away game leaves Sharon teams at a surface disadvantage not training at all on turf.”
The poor condition of the current field has been lamented by athletes as well.
Senior football player Kiran Chandrasekaren said that Sharon doesn’t take care of grass, so turf would be a better option. “Last Thanksgiving, we were basically playing in a foot of mud in the grass when turf would have been fine,” added Chandrasekaren.
Ogbananze said the field, “Our grass field is in terrible condition. Massive divots, very uneven, easily ruined when being played on. Getting turf is safer than letting the field we have now stay.”
On the other hand, turf also causes many environmental problems. Ahmad explained that grass sequesters carbon but turf increases emissions as sunlight causes the plastic to release methane.
“By installing a turf field we would not at all be upholding our resolution for zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. If we truly care about decreasing our emissions and protecting our environment, we would not install a plastic field (made of oil) that has to be discarded or burned every 8 years,” said Ahmad.
When it comes to cost, Lauenstein said that cost is a major consideration too as grass fields cost about $500,000 whereas “a single plastic field costs approximately one million dollars and about $65,000 to dispose of.” On the other hand, Rowe mentions that the per-use cost of turf is much lower because of the increased usage of turf fields.
Lauenstein added that the moratorium will allow Sharon to experiment with better grass field management.
“Sharon recently undertook a pilot project involving enhanced field maintenance at two natural grass fields (one at East Elementary and one at the Middle School). If Sharon’s pilot project gets good results, Sharon can apply enhanced field maintenance at other fields so that all the student-athletes can benefit from healthier, safer, and more resilient natural grass playing surfaces,” Lauenstein explained.
Ultimately, junior Evan Jaffe said that athletes will play on what they are given. “When it comes to playing a field sport, field is field. Turf is field. Grass is field. Simply put, field is field,” he said.