Central Middle School Fields in the Limelight Again

At the December 2019 Board of Education meeting Kevin Fuselier, a landscape architect with Milone & MacBroom presented three options for Central Middle School fields: engineered natural grass, synthetic turf, and a hybrid of both.

At CMS, after it rains the fields can be closed for days.

CMS principal Tom Healy said the full size baseball field was not used last year by the school’s competitive baseball team that plays against Western and Eastern. “It always had water on it,” he said. “We’re at a disadvantage.”

Shortcomings came up two years ago when the GHS Rugby team sought to use CMS fields for weekday practices. (The arrangement didn’t pan out because by the time the BOE had all the information P&Z had requested about temporary diesel powered lights, the Rugby season had ended).


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Milone and MacBroom, based in Cheshire, CT, has worked with Greenwich in the past. They did the turf at Cos Cob Park.

Currently at CMS, in addition to the full size baseball diamond, there is a youth baseball diamond and a multi-purpose field used for school recess and PE classes.

To date Milone & MacBroom have done a topographic survey and a traffic analysis, including crash history around the school, existing traffic volumes and current field activity schedules.

“The adjacent roadway system would be able to accommodate traffic associated with any of the options we present. No mitigation is required.” –Kevin Fuselier, Milone & MacBroom

Nor did they find wetlands, watercourses or other “regulated resources.”

Mr. Fuselier said his firm also looked for history of contamination.

They contacted town land use officials and researched the site’s history including aerial photos dating back to the 1930s.

The best news were the results of soil sample testing.

“The soil at CMS does not contain contaminants. It would be considered clean fill if excavated and removed from the site.” – Kevin Fuselier, Milone & MacBroom

“I want us to celebrate having clean soil, because that’s not something that happens all the time in Greenwich,” said Kathleen Stowe. “Clean soil at Central!”

Mr. Fuselier presented three options at the preliminary design stage.

Option 1. Engineered Grass. Estimate $1,000,000+ not including further design fees.

An engineered reconstruction of natural grass would leave the existing configuration almost as is, except the full size ball field would be given a preferred orientation and made more accessible from the school and parking.

“We’ll put in subsurface drainage that you won’t see that will allow the fields to drain more rapidly,” Fuselier said, adding that natural grass can tolerate a maximum of 25 hours of play a week, if not under saturated conditions. He said natural grass needs time to rest.

CMS gym teacher Nancy James said PE classes, youth programs, and weekend games cumulatively bring the field use well over 25 hours a week.

“If you don’t give it a chance to heal it will die off,” Fuselier said.  You can put grass seed down all day on compacted soil and it’s not going to grow.”

Option 2. Fully Synthetic Turf for entire facility with no natural grass. This would mean year round playability in all weather. Estimate: $3 Million, not including further design fees.

Option 3. Hybrid of natural grass and turf. Estimate: $1.6 Million, not including further design fees. This would maintain natural grass in the smaller ball field, and a multi-purpose synthetic turf field for play, recess and some sports.

Mr. Fuselier said the proposed turf is based on Envirofill, the material at Cardinal Stadium. It is a coated sand product.

“It is one of the more expensive systems out there, but is widely used and respected,” Fuselier said. “It’s more costly than traditional crumb rubber, which is standard.”

With a start time of June, installation of synthetic turf could be complete in August. Natural grass would need time to grow in. Installing sod would be ready more quickly than seed, which requires a season of growth before being used.

“I wouldn’t do crumb rubber,” Sherr said. “What is the current state-of-the-art if you don’t do crumb rubber?”

“We have plenty of clients who say crumb rubber is off the table,” Fuselier said, going on to talk about EPDM rubber and TPE.

He noted Yale installed a synthetic field with a different rubber infill product called EPDM rubber, which does not originate from car tires.

EPDM stands for ethylene propylene diene monomer rubber.

“It doesn’t have the stigma of crumb rubber you get bad press from,” he said.

Still, Yale’s decision was controversial.

Environmentalists in New Haven raised concerns about the health of athletes coming into contact with toxic chemicals.

Nancy Alderman, president of Environment and Human Health, Inc said in a letter published in the New Haven Register, “EPDM is a synthetic rubber, and just like the waste tires that make crumb rubber infill, EPDM contains harmful chemicals as well as containing carbon black, which is a possible carcinogenic to humans.”

The Material Safety Data Sheet for EPDM says the product is a “Possible Cancer Hazard” — and can be an irritant to lungs, eyes and skin.

Fuselier said Westport recently installed fields using Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE) for infill. TPE a generic term for extruded plastic pellets made from a rubber and plastic polymer.

While TPEs are often advertised as made from “virgin” (not recycled) materials, there is wide variability in their quality and chemical makeup. While many TPEs are advertised as free of lead, zinc, and other toxic materials, some have been shown to contain heavy metals, according to Mt Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center.  TPEs are often composed of ethylene, butadiene, and styrene copolymers. Styrene and butadiene, two of the main components in crumb rubber, are classified as carcinogens by the World Health Organization.

Other options for infill include Envirofill which is acrylic coated sand. “It’s very expensive, and makes a firm surface. It’s not organic or natural,” Fuselier said, adding, “Sand doesn’t have the issues of crumb rubber.”

Mr. Fuselier said infill made of cork and coconut husks is a natural product, but has high maintenance costs.

“It needs a moisture content, so you have to water it,” Fuselier said. “It breaks down and has to be replenished. It freezes quicker, which can be an issue for playability.”

The mention of frozen cork led to a discussion of concussions.

When you move away from rubber, you don’t get the concussion protection, so you introduce the shock cap, a foam or rubber layer that goes under the field,” Fuselier said, adding, “You can’t make a field concussion free. …We advise clients to consider shock pads, but it adds $1.50 per square ft.”

Mr. Fuselier said some of his clients are choosing to have both natural grass and turf. “They let their natural grass field rest and use the synethetic.”

Fuselier said in terms of playability, one synthetic turf field is equal to three natural grass fields.

Ms. Stowe said there are 64 grass fields in Greenwich plus 6 that are turfed.

Joe Kelly, who coached GHS Rugby for many years said, “After coaching for 10 years, 15 games a season, we’ve never played on a grass field.”

Mr. Fuselier also talked about disposing of or recycling expired turf. A standard warranty is for eight years, but as the products become more durable, warranties are going to 10 years, and he has seen turf last 14 years.

“Landfills are filling up with rolls of carpet. You can reuse it to some extent,” he said adding that some turf is being reused for items including decking and coasters.

Ms. Stowe noted the Parks & Rec Dept maintains the school fields in Greenwich.

“We don’t pay for maintaining our fields,” Stowe said. “Maintenance is lower on synthetic turf. But even though it’s cheaper, when you have to replace it in 10 or 12 years, there are disposal costs and cost of replacing the carpet. That offsets savings for maintenance.”

BOE chair Peter Bernstein said he was not interested in crumb rubber or any rubber product.

“Years ago Parks & Rec had planned to turf all our fields without coming to the Board of Education,” Bernstein said. “I’m wondering if they’ve given any input to this process. They are the secondary users of the field.”

Facilities director for the district Dan Watson said Parks & Rec prefers turf.

Mr. Sherr said Parks & Rec originally wanted to “turf every possible square inch you can turf.”

“I may be alone on this board, but I prefer grass,” Sherr said.

“There have to be trade offs. It’s clear to me if I’m listening to the community, other than parents of serious athletes, they’ll gravitate toward natural things. But somebody is not going to be happy.”

Meghan Olsson participated in the meeting by speaker phone. “Stakeholders will have a lot to say,” she said. “We still have a lot to ruminate on.”

Fields at Central Middle School. File Photo