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District officials cross fingers in new turf project

The sports groups in The Field of Dreams still owe more than $500,000 on the Tigard High stadium artificial turf field
by: Jaime Valdez, APART AT THE SEAMS — Stace Shillitto, of Tigard High’s security personnel and assistant coach for both football and baseball, pulls up on the turf at Tigard High’s stadium field last summer before crews came out to glue the surface back down.

TIGARD - The Tigard-Tualatin School District wants more than a sheet of paper backing the guarantee of an artificial turf surface.

Officials wanted some sort of proof that this time after the turf is installed at Tigard High the project company won't go bankrupt months later and leave the district with a worthless warranty.

And that proved hard to find as the district received only one bid for the summer installation of a new stadium turf field at Tigard High. On Thursday, the Tigard-Tualatin School Board approved a $770,000 contract with Field Turf Builders in Wilsonville.

Fake grass was supposed to be a cinch. Install it and watch it weather 10 years of sporting events. But for Tigard High that didn't happen.

Just four years after the Tigard High stadium turf was installed in 2002, the school started to see some problems, said Superintendent Rob Saxton. And after six years, Saxton said the field was determined to be unplayable. The field that was guaranteed to last 10 years didn't even make it past the halfway mark before it needed to be repaired because strips of Astroplay started coming unglued.

Last summer, the district spent $42,000 to employ a company that specialized in the process of regluing artificial turf fields.

With that history, district officials went into a bidders' meeting in March with one thing in mind: Don't let the same thing happen again.

'We wanted to make sure that what we purchased and put down lasted,' Saxton said. 'We didn't want to have what happened last time.'

The bidders' meeting which started with four potential companies was quickly whittled down to just one bidder after the district laid out its requirements. The deal breaker for many, as Saxton explained, was that the district wanted a company with a five-year track record of successful fields and an association with a manufacturer that had turf installations in at least 25 fields in the last five years.

'School districts are seeing other manufacturers go bankrupt,' said Rob Gloeckner, general manager for Field Turf Builders in Wilsonville. 'They've been burned by companies that went bankrupt, so now they want manufacturers with a strong financial history.'

Saxton said that research into turf fields for the initial installation of the Tigard High stadium field was extensive. The stadium field was originally a grassroots project taken on by members of the community and school and local sporting groups that called themselves The Field of Dreams. The group includes the Tigard High football, baseball and lacrosse teams and Southside Soccer, American Legion baseball and Tigard junior and senior league baseball.

Through a contract with the district, whereby the district funded the $940,000 turf project in 2002, members of The Field of Dreams agreed to group together to pay $114,702 a year for 10 years. In return, the group has guaranteed scheduled playtimes on the fields for the life of the 10-year contract.

The group still owes more than $500,000 toward the original turf. However, Saxton said the district will honor its contract with the sports groups allowing them continued use of the field. Saxton said the groups will continue to pay on the original loan. And the district will continue to charge a $1 turf-field surcharge for stadium ticket sales.

Valorie Westlund, director of operations for Southside Soccer, said her organization is very excited with the district's willingness to honor The Field of Dreams contract even though the contract essentially outlived the life of the field. Westlund had expressed concern this summer that the organization could lose its right to play on the stadium field once the new turf was installed since essentially the field that they were paying for didn't exist anymore.

According to Saxton, some sports groups are disappointed that the stadium field will not be available this summer as the project gets underway.

The district's Human Resources Director Ernie Brown noted that crews are set to start on the turf project as soon as Tigard High finishes with its graduation ceremonies. The project will likely not be completed until early August, but will be finished just in time for Tigard High's first football game of the new season, Brown said.

The new Tigard stadium field will use technology similar to that used at the Tualatin High turf field. The new field will use sewn seams and turf from the manufacturer of Field Turf. Gloeckner said the turf carries with it an eight-year warranty.

In its contract approval, the School Board also declared its official intent of the district to reimburse itself for the expenditures of the new field from proceeds of bonds or other obligations in an expected maximum principal amount of $800,000.

Saxton said this statement allows the board to reserve the right to include this turf field project in a future bond measure. While the district has no immediate plans to pursue another capital improvements bond, an increase in student population could push the need for a bond sometime in 2010, 2011 or 2012, Saxton said. Also in 2006, the School Board approved a supplemental budget of $500,000 transferred from the district's general fund to its capital improvements fund for the purpose of future turf field replacement.