Turf fields to benefit community in many ways

Greg Mast
Mounds of dirt was taken off the football and soccer fields as they are being prepped for turf. Ottawa school district officials anticipate a mid-August completion rate, a couple of weeks cushion before the fall seasons begin. [PHOTO BY GREG MAST/THE OTTAWA HERALD].

Field turf for athletic facilities has been a dream for Ottawa school district officials for a long time.

Ryan Cobbs, Ottawa superintendent, said they have talked about adding turf for years, but became serious in the past year as the funds became available.

“We started really thinking we could do it as we saw better terms of our bonds,” Cobbs said. We did a great job of managing bond funds. We got more out of that bond than we ever expected.”

The bond was the $63.1 million issue passed by district patrons in 2015.

“We saw a refinance of our bond that saved our community $10 million, four or five years off the life expectancy of the bond,” Cobbs said. “We have done some great things to limit the impact on taxpayers. When we utilize that, some insurance dollars we had, we recognized we had some capital funds, left over bond funds that we could do something really great.”

The wheels were put in motion to turf the football and soccer fields and make those dreams a reality.

This spring, the board approved a proposal of about $1.4 million. Cobbs said Mid-America Sports Construction bid came in under the $1.8 budget for the project.

Mid-America began moving dirt a week ago and expects to be completed by mid-August, Cobbs said.

“Mid-America had a great bid,” he said. “We talked to a lot of different turf companies. I did not see any poor options. We had to find the right one for us. We are going to have incredible fields.”

Changing Times

Turf fields used to be a novelty, but not any more. Kansas school districts added turf fields throughout past decade.

“We are probably behind in getting it done,” Cobbs said. “There was a time we had a really nice grass field. Fifteen years ago, Richard Smith was still our director of operations, Ottawa High School and its football field was recognized in a magazine as having a really outstanding grass field.”

The grass fields took a beating with the changing weather and added usage.

“The guys have done a good job in trying to keep it [in shape],” Cobbs said. “It is an expensive proposition. The cost to water it and over seed it [is expensive]. The cost of turfing our field is pretty darn close to maintaining a grass field over the course of its lifetime. I understand it is a fairly significant upfront cost.”

The heat and rain took a toll on maintaining a grass field.

“We live in Kansas and the heat is atrocious at times,” Cobbs said. “We also get a lot of rain, especially in the fall during the season. You can spend a whole lot of time getting your field prepped and ready to go. It takes one rainy ball game to destroy it. Unless you have George Toma hired, it takes a lot to compensate for those things.”

Benefits of Turf

Cobbs said the benefits of having turf fields is enormous, especially for student activities, physical education classes and youth sports.

Band practice was limited to two days a week on the grass field, Cobbs said.

“We asked them to move across the field to not create problems with the grass and kill the grass in certain areas,” he said. “With the turf, they can be out there every day at midfield and do exactly the things they do. We will see improvements in performances of an already great band. They can be out there every day on the field they are going to perform on. Know exactly where they are supposed to go.”

Cobbs said the Ottawa Recreation Commission will use the fields for their youth programs.

“As we start building programs at a youth level, having young kids to be able to play on a field like that and get excited about soccer may be the reason they continue to play soccer and ultimately become Cyclone soccer [players],” he said. “Certainly football as well.”

The athletic teams will have a surface conducive to minimizing injuries.

“We want to make sure our facilities are as safe as they can be,” Cobbs said. “Football and soccer are two of the most concussed sports. They are going to be better because of the surface we will be on. It is not going to be slick or hard.”

Wow Factor

The high school facilities have been transformed with the bond. The high school received a new science wing, C-Tech building and performing arts center.

“There is a wow factor associated with our schools now,” Cobbs said. “The curbside view of our schools is the predeterminate factor as whether or not people believe you have good schools or you don’t have good schools. That curb appeal to our schools is as great as it has ever been, may be since Ottawa High School was built.”

Cobbs said turfing the fields only adds to the ambiance.

“To have a student or a visitor drive into [the high school] parking lot and see the big power clone logo or shield logo or the different fields that will always be green, bright and game ready, is one of those things where people will go ‘look at that,’” he said. “That is a huge benefit to our community overall and how people perceive our schools. Certainly how people want to be involved in our schools.

“This turf is fabulous. It is soft to begin with. It is short enough, we are not going to deal with breakage. It is tall enough that it will look good. It will be a very solid turf choice for us and look fantastic.”