Opinion: Prudence guides tough turf choices

School district takes a new look at parents' artificial turf concerns

Despite the adage that “you can’t fight city hall,” sometimes stepping up and challenging the status quo pays off.

While a definite decision has yet to be announced, we reported earlier this week that the Greater Victoria School District was close to approving an alternative to the usual turf when it replaces Oak Bay High field this spring.

District secretary-treasurer Mark Walsh described re-evaluating the issue as “more of a prudent decision than anything else.

“There were some community concerns raised with respect to the crumb rubber infill so the board asked the superintendent to look at some alternatives.”

The Oak Bay News reported back in December about concerns among some parents that the use of crumb rubber pellets commonly used as underlay for artificial turf could cause health concerns.

At the time, SD61 superintendent Piet Langstraat didn’t anticipate changing the field plans, based on available information. The district would rely on its “partners in health. … Any time a parent or group of parents express a concern, I take it seriously … I do look for the information that does come from the people I consider the experts, in this case it would be Island Health.”

Fast forward 2 1/2 months and the district is giving the issue another look. While available information still points to the safety of the crumb rubber, questions arising in the U.S. and the public prompted the district to look at potential alternatives.

The new recommendation answers both fiscal and health-related what-ifs: “If the science changes in five years there’s virtually no way a school could replace every field,” Walsh said.

The compromise recommended is not the organic coconut-based material parents had suggested – staff had concerns about its longevity and maintenance costs – but as an alternative staff recommends Thermoplastic Elastomers, 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.

While the option still must be OK’d by the board, if approved the district would explore funding options to help cover costs.

The parents did the right thing by presenting decision-makers with both the issue and a potential alternative. The school district listened and took another look.

At the end of the day, prudence may spell a win for all.