Business & Economy

Turf wars: Local schools got problematic artificial grass

A file photo from KPCC shows an example of artificial turf (the brand pictured is not FieldTurf).
A file photo from KPCC shows an example of artificial turf (the brand pictured is not FieldTurf).
Max Whittaker for KPCC

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Dozens of local schools and parks could have a problem on their hands — faulty artificial turf on their sports fields.

A recent investigation by the New Jersey Star-Ledger says Canada-based company FieldTurf sold the artificial turf to hundreds of sports facilities nationwide knowing it would deteriorate earlier than its advertised 8-year warranty.

The company, in a statement published on its website, says it did not knowingly conceal defects in its artificial turf. The company says it made the issue public when it sued its supplier of defective fiber used to create the artificial grass blades. It also says it replaced fields under warranty that had deteriorated.

At least 70 public schools, parks and private schools and clubs in Southern California installed FieldTurf, enough to cover 86 football fields. That's according to a partial list the Star-Ledger compiled using company information. Some of those athletic fields failed far short of the 8-year warranty.

FieldTurf replaced tattered turf at two high schools in the Burbank Unified School District, said board President Larry Applebaum. The fields were installed in 2009 but wore out after just four years. Rather than have the company install another round of the same faulty turf at Burroughs and Burbank high schools, the district decided to pay about $150,000 extra to receive new fields with an upgraded material and a longer, 10-year warranty, Applebaum said.

Applebaum called it "an absolutely fantastic decision" to replace the prematurely worn field with the upgraded surface and longer warranty, even though it cost more. The fields have stood up to near-constant use from school athletes and Burbank residents who use campus fields after school hours. Natural grass couldn't stand up to such heavy use, Applebaum said.

In San Bernardino County, the Chaffey Union Joint High School District in Ontario reached a different conclusion when offered a duplicate replacement or a costlier upgrade, said attorney Peter Lindborg, who represents the district in a lawsuit against FieldTurf.

The school district rejected the company's offer and replaced the turf with another company's product, then sued for restitution, about $1.8 million. With triple damages, the lawsuit demands $5.4 million. The school district lawsuit says that the company knew the turf would fail because only 10 months after it was installed at the Ontario-area schools, the company sued its fiber supplier for providing a deficient product.

In an open letter, FieldTurf President and CEO Eric Daliere apologized. He said the fields performed the worst in hot sunny places like California and Texas where intense UV rays damaged the fibers. But he insisted the main problem was the appearance of the turf, not its performance or safety.