Unsafe to play on, North Harford High artificial turf field to be replaced

The North Harford High School artificial turf athletic field, the first field of its type installed among Harford County's 10 public high schools, will be replaced because it has been deemed unsafe to use, according to county officials.

Harford County Executive Barry Glassman has provided $1.4 million in his proposed $118.9 million capital budget for fiscal 2018 to replace the 10-year-old field at the Pylesville school.

"[It's] one of the first schools that had an artificial field, and it needs to be replaced already," Glassman said.

The county began installing the all-weather artificial turf fields in 2007, under former County Executive David Craig, at a rate of one a year at a cost of about $1 million each.

"It costs more to replace them than it did to build them," Director of Administration Billy Boniface noted during the budget presentation.

Construction is scheduled to start on the next-to-last new field at Fallston High School this spring. That project has a projected cost of $1.55 million.

Patterson Mill High School would be the final school to get the artificial turf field. Glassman has allocated $150,000 in his capital improvement program for the next five years to cover design and engineering costs, according to the capital budget.

Boniface said repairs to the North Harford field were a priority capital project for the school system; an engineering report indicated serious deficiencies.

"We recommend no competition activities be held on this field and it shall only be used for PE class/recreation purposes after the implantation of professional maintenance services or until the field is fully replaced," according to a field evaluation report prepared by Leading Design and Development LLC, of Lovettsville, Va.

The firm worked with Frederick Ward Associates, of Bel Air, to evaluate eight artificial turf fields at high schools and recreation facilities in Harford County for the school system and the county's Department of Parks and Recreation. The report is dated Dec. 19, 2016.

The data on North Harford's field is taken from an LDD field survey conducted June 22, 2016.

"The [turf] fibers are severely deteriorated and are showing signs of UV degradation causing them to be very brittle and laid over," according to the survey. "The deteriorated fibers are causing the infill to accumulate on the surface which is effecting the aesthetics and traction performance on the playing surface."

The field is used daily for sports such as football, soccer, field hockey and lacrosse, according to the report.

The engineering review estimated the turf system has less than one year's worth of "anticipated useful life" left for "mild recreational use," however.

"When the independent study results were received, the North Harford High School community was notified that no activities would be held on the synthetic turf field because of potential safety concerns about traction and footing issues," Jillian Lader, manager of communications for Harford County Public Schools, said via email Tuesday.

Lader said the county has given HCPS an approximate reopen date in the fall of 2017 for the replacement field.

"As a result, games currently scheduled to take place on the synthetic field have been relocated to other fields at the school," she explained. "Fall games will be scheduled accordingly, utilizing other fields at the school or being scheduled at the visiting team's field."

Joe Licata, chief of administration for Harford County Public Schools, noted in an interview with The Aegis last summer that the all-weather artificial turf fields have a lifespan of 10 to 12 years.

According to Lader, the cost of maintenance on the synthetic fields is shared by Harford County Public Schools with the county's Parks and Recreation Department. She also noted that "synthetic fields are not automatically replaced at the industry stated standard of a 10-year lifespan."

"Use and maintenance on a field play a part in how long they may remain in playable condition," she continued, adding that the synthetic field at North Harford "was one of the first installed in the county."

Harford Community College replaced a turf field at its outdoor sports complex, part of series of upgrades to the facility in 2014, college officials said at the time.

The comprehensive report Frederick Ward submitted last year covers fields at Bel Air High School, Edgewood High School, Harford Technical High School, Havre de Grace High School and North Harford, along with recreation facilities at Cedar Lane Park, the Fallston Recreation Complex and the Wade R. Tucker II Memorial Field.

"This study was performed on the identified eight field due to their age and conditions," according to the report.

Surveyors evaluated each field's "impact resistance" to regular use, the state of the synthetic grass fibers and the fill material, as well as how well stormwater moves through the field to a stormwater management facility.

Extensive repairs were recommended for each field, and most have a remaining service life of either two to three or one to two years. The North Harford field is in the worst shape, though, and it has the least amount of time left, of about one year, according to the report.

"We may have to begin doing a maintenance program and doing one of these [replacements] each year," Glassman said.

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