VAIL, Colorado - The town of Vail is pursuing the installation of synthetic infields at Ford Park, but the public still has a chance to comment on why synthetic turf might be a good or bad addition to the park's athletic fields.
Town of Vail Capital Projects Manager Todd Oppenheimer told the Vail Town Council Tuesday night that town staff determined very early in the process that in order to get a two-field layout for soccer and lacrosse at Ford Park, there's no option but to use the softball infields.
The use of a natural turf outfield and synthetic turf infield is called Hybrid Sport Fields, considered state-of-the-art and common throughout the country, according to a Vail staff memo to the town council.
"Hybrid Sport Filed Systems and preferred by facility managers, organizers, coaches and players. The fields are safe, easier and less expensive to maintain, drain quickly when wet and hold up better to the intense use that comes with tournament play," according to the memo.
Vail Recreation District Executive Director Mike Ortiz said the district has never promised more teams in Vail or a longer season as a result of turf fields, and chose not to turf the entire park. For safety reasons, though, Ortiz said there's no other way to build two full-size soccer/lacrosse fields without the synthetic turf in the softball infields.
Safety-wise, Ortiz said the town has to step up.
"The fields are in pretty bad shape right now," Ortiz said, adding that there are waves and lips in the fields and below-standard irrigation. "It's time to improve - to keep pace with the rest of the town - keep working so we can attract events and groups here."
What the district is proposing is a foundation within the ground - one that isn't affected by frost - that runs along the perimeter of the field. The synthetic material is then wrapped over that foundation and attached to the side of it, Oppenheimer said.
"Then the natural turf outfield is brought to that at the same elevation," Oppenheimer said.
That synthetic turf has about an 8-year life, he said, adding that the town would rely on the designers of the field to pick the right material for Vail's climate.
Users of the fields at Ford Park have written to the Vail Recreation District in support of the turf option. Jim and David Soran, co-directors of the Vail Lacrosse Shootout tournament, wrote in a July 2012 letter that turf provides better quality field conditions, in safer than grass and dirt and is less affected by the weather.
"We feel that turf fields would provide an improved overall experience for the organizers of our event as well as the players and spectators," they wrote.
Vail Homeowners Association Executive Director Jim Lamont, however, said the subject of turf was a subject "of great debate and discussion." He accused the current council of baking away from promises a previous council made. He told them that integrity is at stake.
"Commitments were made and I think they need to be respected," Lamont said.
But council members disagreed with Lamont's position that they're breaking any promises. Councilwoman Margaret Rogers said taking a dirt infield and replacing it with artificial turf for safety reasons isn't the same as taking the natural turf and making it artificial.
"We're replacing dirt," Rogers said. "I don't think it's relevant."
Because Tuesday night's discussion was presented on the town council agenda under "Town Manager's report," Mayor Andy Daly said he didn't feel comfortable moving forward without more public input. Other members pointed out that materials about the turf were included in the council agenda packet and the public would have been plenty aware.
The council's blessing Tuesday doesn't mean the fake turf gets a green light. The town's Design Review Board will review the materials and field design before anything is officially approved. The town has issued a request for proposals for the project and that deadline is March 1.
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.