Responding to a moratorium from the City of Edmonds on crumb rubber tire infill on public play fields, the Edmonds School Board of Directors at its Feb. 26 meeting approved the use of synthetic turf made of cork for Edmonds-Woodway High School’s new baseball field.
The unanimous vote to award the project to Wyser Construction marks the first time cork infill has been used on a play field in the Edmonds School District, said Board President Diana White. All of the other district fields use either crumb rubber or natural grass.
The school board also authorized a $750,000 increase in the project, bringing the total cost to $7.79 million, in response to a number of market factors – in particular, the impact of steel tariffs, said District Communications Specialist Kelly Franson.
“Given the large amount of steel on this project, that’s the single factor that has the most to do with it,” said Capital Projects Director Ed Peters.
The increase will also cover the additional cost of $64,000 to use cork infill and $234,975 to meet the school athletic program’s requirements for a batting cage building.
The project will be funded by $5.8 million from the 2016 capital levy, $640,000 in grant funds from Verdant Health Commission, $600,000 from the 2014 bond and $750,000 from property revenue.
Construction for the project is scheduled to begin at the end of May and is expected to be completed by late September or early October, Peters said.
The project will include the installation of a new full-sized synthetic turf baseball field, which will double as a practice field for football, soccer and other uses. It also includes the installation of additional tennis courts and tennis court lighting, and resurfacing the existing Edmonds-Woodway High School softball field.
Prior the vote, School Board President White had questions about the cork infill, including whether additional irrigation would be required.
“The current densities of cork in the products that we’re seeing do not require supplemental irrigation water,” replied project designer Robert Harding, a landscaping designer from D.A. Hogan and Associates.
Because the school district has never used cork infill as a synthetic turf, White said she was also concerned about unknown effects like performance and safety impacts.
“Kids could get hurt,” she said. “I really would like to see more uniformity.”
According to Peters, supplemental padding that is included in the play fields provides protection for the students, and there has been an increased level of safety and fall protection. He said most of the fall protection comes from the supplemental padding, which absorbs the impact, not the infill.
“The infill is there to hold the fibers up in a continuous condition so it becomes a more consistent playing surface,” he said.
The Edmonds School District has had ongoing discussions about the safety of crumb rubber ever since a group of parents and neighbors first raised the issue in spring 2015. That’s when citizens became aware of a plan by the school district, under an agreement with the city and the Verdant Health Commission, to tear out natural grass fields next to the former Woodway High School (now known as the Woodway Campus) and replace them with crumb rubber artificial turf as part of a three-phase sports complex.
The Edmonds School Board rejected citizens’ requests to stop using the material — stating there was a lack of research to declare it unsafe and pointing to the increased costs of alternative infills such as cork. But those same citizens also began appearing at Edmonds City Council meetings, and the city council in December 2015 first approved the moratorium following months of public testimony and discussion. The moratorium has been extended several times – the latest extension through Aug. 21, 2019, pending results of research on health and environmental effects being conducted both nationally and in California.
— By Cody Sexton