The Ashland High School booster club got the go-ahead to start raising funds for artificial field turf at the school board meeting Monday night.




The club will have three months to gather pledges and come back to the board to reevaluate the plans, at which time national safety studies on artificial turf are also expected to be completed.




The project would cost approximately $875,000 funded by donations, but the board's chief concern is the safety and environmental impact of an artificial field, said board chair Mat Marr.




"We want to make sure it's going to be the absolute best thing for our kids," he said. "Grass has issues. It's a very wasteful thing to maintain."




The irrigation water and herbicides used to keep the field looking fresh could present greater danger to students than an artificial field, he said.




Board member Heidi Parker researched studies on both older Astroturf products, which are being removed in several states, and newer synthetic products.




"So far, the preliminary results of those studies are that basically there is very little health risk associated with the newer products," she said.




As long as studies continue to show synthetic turf is safe, the decision will come down to money. A refurbished grass field could still cost $400,000, she said.




"It's very expensive to prepare a grass field or a turf field, and our current one is really old and needs to be redone," Parker said. "So the question is, since we have to redo it, and it's going to be many hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix it, what is the choice?"




Several area schools and parks have already installed artificial fields and are so far very happy with the decision.




"It's probably one of the best things we've done," said Dennis Murphy, athletic director at South Medford High School, which has used artificial turf since 2004 at Spiegelberg Stadium. It was installed at a cost of approximately $500,000, he said.




"It's used even more than we thought, and probably one of the biggest benefits is our P.E. classes are out there every day," he said. "There's no mud, there's no dirt, even when it rains."




Medford Parks and Recreation also recently opened U.S. Cellular Community Park, with five fields of synthetic turf, costing approximately $1 million, said Merlin McDaniel, design and construction manager for the parks department.




"Even with the replacement costs, in an average of ten years, we still get a payback," he said. "It's definitely cheaper in the long run than natural turf, and you get the benefit of all those additional games, so you don't have to build as many fields."




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