Synthetic turf may save the day

With dry rainy seasons and the rising cost of utilities, simply watering grass on local playing fields can become a major hurdle for cities.

Many cities, including Belmont and San Mateo, are looking into converting some or all of their grass playing fields to artificial turf, to lower maintenance and eliminate watering costs after an initial investment in the synthetic surface.

Belmont Interim Co-Director of Parks and Recreation George Brunson said his staff is looking at forming a Parks and Recreation foundation to help the city raise money for artificial playing fields at the Belmont Sports Complex.

Initial estimates place the cost of installation at approximately $1.3 million for construction at the 5-acre complex and $1.1 million for the installation of the synthetic turf surfaces.

That would allow the city to save $30,000 in annual water bills for the complex and the manpower that typically equals two full-time staff members.

“If you just look at the high school districts in the area, they’re all moving to synthetic turf, and there are a couple factors that sway people in that direction,” Brunson said. “Because of the increasing demand for athletic fields, natural grass can’t hold up over time, and then you get into water conservation, field maintenance, and you don’t have to use pesticides and fertilizers.”

Belmont recently investigated installing approximately $2.5 million in pipes and pumping utilities to bring “gray water” from the South Bayside System Authority in Redwood City to the sports complex, but the costs associated were too great.

“The most obvious place to use it is our sports fields, but there it becomes a political issue, because frequently residents don’t feel comfortable playing on fields irrigated with gray water,” Public Works Director Ray Davis said. “The water is even cleaner than what went into the system, but it’s a psychological barrier that people have to overcome.”

A gray water system would allow Belmont to reclaim some of the almost 3 million gallons of wastewater the city produces daily.

The system as proposed would have brought water to three locations: Ralston Avenue at U.S. Highway 101, Ralston Avenue at Hiller Drive and the north and south fields of the Belmont Sports Complex. Even without factoring the repaving needed after those projects, each would cost the city between $750,000 and $900,000.

jgoldman@examiner.com

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