School board considers crumb rubber turf options

Underlay could change for Oak Bay High’s new turf field

Greater Victoria School District is close to approving an alternative to the usual turf when it replaces Oak Bay High field this spring.

“It’s more of a prudent decision than anything else,” said Mark Walsh, secretary-treasurer for Greater Victoria School District. “There were some community concerns raised with respect to the crumb rubber infill so the board asked the superintendent to look at some alternatives.”

Parents raised health concerns about the use of crumb rubber pellets commonly used as underlay for artificial turf.

“All information that is available to us, from Island Health for instance, does not suggest (crumb rubber) is an unsafe product,” Walsh said. “What we did determine, though, is there are increasingly some questions arising, as presented by individuals in the public as well as a number of American organizations. … We felt that from a prudence perspective that exploring an alternative would be safe in the sense of, if the science changes in five years there’s virtually no way a school could replace every field.”

The school district’s Facilities Services started researching alternative infill and now recommend an alternative product called Thermoplastic Elastomers (TPE), described as virgin rubber in the form of bead-like hard pellets. The product would have the same useful life and maintenance cost as crumb rubber but would come at a higher initial cost.

“The alternative suggested by a number of individuals was an organic material,” Walsh said. “What we’re concerned about with that is an organic material has higher maintenance costs on a year-to-year basis. We do (also) have some concerns about it in a moist environment in Victoria,” he said. “As a public school district, whatever we do cannot be costing operational dollars that are supposed to be going to education. We didn’t feel that product would satisfy that requirement.”

Opting for TPE would see an approximate $250,000 to $300,000 increase in capital expense at the start of the project, but not on an ongoing operational level.

The option – yet to be approved by the board – would see the district explore additional funding options including cash within the building envelope of the new Oak Bay High, options for fundraising with the school itself and the Bays United soccer organization, which helped fund the field replacement.   Switching to the TPE underlay as opposed to crumb rubber should not delay the project set for  September 2017 completion.