The artificial turf fields at both Destrehan and Hahnville high schools are experiencing premature wear due to a manufacturer defect.
John Rome, executive director of Physical Plant Services for the school system, said the problem is with the artificial blades of grass’ ability to withstand prolonged sunshine.
“They are having a problem with deterioration of the fibers on the field playing surface itself – the turf as we refer to it. There are some apparent issues with the UV protection on these fibers and they are deteriorating,” he said.
The fields were installed in 2008 by FieldTurf Tarkett at a combined cost of about $2.6 million and are under warranty until August 2016. Any potential turf replacement would cost much less than the initial installation because the infrastructure for the fields is already in place.
In the case of a replacement, Rome said the cost would likely be much lower than the initial construction price.
“I can confidently tell you that the actual surfacing was well less than half than the overall cost,” he said.
School officials said it cost $451,000 to surface the fields in 2008.
At Hahnville High School, the problem is most evident. Some blades of artificial grass have broken and the sheathing on the outside has come off, exposing fibers on the inside that have become unbound and lay flat on the ground rather than sticking up.
This problem has been experienced in numerous other fields FieldTurf Tarkett has built throughout the southeast region of the United States, some of which they have had to replace before the warranty period was up.
“I know the fields in the southeast have experienced this problem. Fields local to this area – Newman, St. Charles Catholic, some fields in Jefferson Parish, as well as our two fields,” Rome said.
In November 2012, FieldTurf Tarkett examined the fields and sent a letter to the school system.
In that letter, FieldTurf Tarkett said they determined that the fields in St. Charles Parish Public Schools have not reached the point of failure yet and do not need to be replaced.
“Their examination just showed initial signs of wear and tear. They did not sense a field failure,” Rome said. “The field is playable by their standards and their testing and they are continuing to monitor it to make sure that there is no further deterioration that will cause concern.”
District 2 School Board member Melinda Bernard expressed concern given that FieldTurf Tarkett is currently enmeshed in a lawsuit against China-based Tencate LLC, who was responsible for manufacturing the turf surface.
“The person who made (the turf) is in the lawsuit with the manufacturer of this turf?” she asked.
Rome acknowledged that although FieldTurf Tarkett laid the field, the problem was with the turf made by the Chinese manufacturer.
“They do have a pending lawsuit against them for providing faulty fibers,” he said.
Despite the problems, the fields have been cleared for use for the upcoming football season and are scheduled to be reevaluated at the end of the season.
Rome said FieldTurf Tarkett groomed the fields in July in preparation for the upcoming season.
“Over time the fields can get kind of compacted. They bring the fibers back up to the surface, but you are playing on that rubber and sand mixture,” he said.
Rome added that the school system will be keeping a close eye on the situation.
“We are going to keep monitoring it and work with them closely when they do that evaluation in late fall and expect a report as to the conditions to see what our next step will be,” he said.
Since FieldTurf Tarkett holds the warranty, Rome said it will be up to their determination on whether the field will qualify for replacement under the warranty in the future.
School Board Vice President Jay Robichaux said the board could consider legal action if there is a disagreement on whether the fields should be replaced before the warranty period expires.
“We are working with them very closely and we will consult with an attorney if it gets any worse,” he said.
The issues with the football fields come only a year after the track at Hahnville High School had to be replaced due to defects. However, in that case the track built by Mondo USA failed two years after the five-year warranty had passed. The School Board spoke about taking legal action against Mondo USA during a committee meeting last year, but none was taken.