Five “all-weather” football fields at the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) high schools have slowly melted over the past two years due to a combination of defective materials and extreme heat. Fairfax High School is one of three schools beginning the replacement process, which has forced its football team to play every game away from home, at least until the field is finished.
The synthetic plastic pellets that create the fields’ turf are approximately the size of a grain of sand, but have melted and re-hardened to form fist-sized clumps. Mark Hovatter, chief facilities executive for LAUSD, said they noticed the issue at Fairfax in the latter half of 2013.
“When the synthetic plastic pellets began to melt and clump together, we saw it as a nuisance – the material was dragged across the field on their cleats and into the locker room,” Hovatter said.
Soon, the issue became much more than a nuisance, and the hard surface presented a safety hazard. Hovatter noted that the field at Fairfax continually worsened over the years, and it was deemed unfit for play this season.
While the recent heat waves have contributed to the melting fields, Hovatter said the synthetic plastic material should have been able to withstand the heat. The small pellets are supposed to be able to endure temperatures of up to 180 degrees, though in tests they began to melt at 140.
“The heat waves have made the condition much worse,” Hovatter said. “This started a few years ago, and as the temperatures go through a heating and cooling cycle, more of the field has melted then hardened.”
The football team has moved practices to the school’s baseball field. The Fairfax Lions won their first home game last week at Hollywood High School’s campus. Construction on the school’s field began last month and is set to conclude on Sept. 30.
Fairfax High School’s football field was installed approximately four years ago, but was under warranty for eight years. LAUSD initially estimated that the repairs to each of the fields would cost between $300,000 and $800,000 to fix, but the new field at Fairfax is now anticipated to cost $1.2 million.
The school district is asking to be reimbursed for the cost by Regal Field, the company that supplied the defective material to all of the five schools affected. The company has admitted fault, and the school district is now negotiating the amount of reimbursement.
“They have made an offer, and we did not agree on that percentage. We got four years worth of life out of this field, and while we are getting an upgrade, they need to make good on their warranty,” Hovatter said.
The new fields will feature a padded material underneath a sand and polymer mixture that will be better at absorbing shock when athletes fall or are tackled. Hovatter said the materials are being provided by a different manufacturer and will offer the latest technology.
LAUSD has decided to move forward with fronting the entire bill to get the five schools’ fields replaced, rather than make the schools suffer without playing fields during the negotiation process.
El Camino Real High School and Sotomayor Learning Academies are also in the process of replacing their football fields. Diego Rivera High School and Washington Preparatory High School are waiting to start the repairs. The replacement process takes approximately two months.
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