Gunn, Paly sports fields to get synthetic turf

Board votes to accept anonymous donation –- but requires process for community input on construction and use

Soccer and football games at Palo Alto's high schools will likely take place on synthetic turf next fall, following a school board vote on Tuesday to accept an anonymous donation.

The donation will fund the entire cost of installing synthetic-turf fields at both Gunn and Palo Alto High Schools, expected to be about $2.6 million, said Chief Business Official Bob Golton.

Last night the board voted unanimously to accept only the $67,615 needed to fund architectural design studies for the future fields, plus an extra ten percent in case of unforeseen cost increases, for a total of $74,377.

The board will accept more money for construction and installation later in the year when estimates become available, Golton said.

The total cost should not exceed $3 million and will likely be around $2.6 million, he said.

Replacing the turf in 10 years will cost between $300,000 and $350,000, he said.

The board bypassed its usual two-meeting discussion rule to accept the money in time to have fields installed for the next football season, but added provisions about gathering community input to be sure hasty acceptance would not override residents' concerns.

District staff must meet with the community to discuss environmentally sound construction practices, board members stipulated.

And the district must include neighborhood residents in future decisions about how to use the fields, they said.

The designs should be finished by January or February and construction of fields could begin in May, pending state approval, Golton said.

Installation should be complete by Aug. 15, in time for next fall's football season, he said.

The new fields will have many benefits, including saving water, fertilizer and labor needed to maintain natural lawns, he said.

The $90,000 yearly maintenance cost of natural fields will also be saved, he said.

And the weather will no longer keep students from being active, he said.

"The youngsters that are in our physical education classes, instead of not being able to use these field during the rainy season after it rains, will be on those fields an hour after it stops," he said.

Free of mud or uneven gopher holes, synthetic turf is safer than grass, Bob Cramner-Brown, president of the Gunn Sports Boosters, said.

His son slipped in the mud of Gunn's natural-grass field last year while taking a kick, he said.

"You could hear the crack of his arm breaking from the other side of the field," he said.

The sudden announcement of the donation last week caused school officials to rush to get it approved so fields could be ready by next fall, Superintendent Kevin Skelly said.

"We don't know if unforeseen delays will arise during construction," he said, asking the board to approve the donation Tuesday night.

"This project will bring our stadiums up to the standards of neighboring schools [and there are students who plan to play football in the fall and who plan to use this field to play," Skelly said.

But board members were hesitant to hurriedly green-light the project.

The short time-line of approval meant many community members may be unaware of the turf fields, board President Camille Townsend said.

A handful turned out Tuesday to echo Townsend's concerns about the short notice precluding participation.

Although the district currently plans to use the fields for school-day classes and routine sports, non-school groups would likely get in on the act, Southgate resident and Paly neighbor Jim McFall said.

"Turf by its nature facilitates increased use. That's why you put it in -- so you can use the field more," he said.

"Adult leagues are all over Palo Alto. Undoubtedly, they'll want to use this wonderful resource that's available 24/7," he said.

And the noise from inevitable increased use would disturb neighbors, who have not yet been adequately informed by the district about the proposed construction, he said.

Residents who live near Gunn also voiced concerns about the speedy, sudden project.

Dirt and debris from eventual springtime construction would be a nuisance to residents if dumped on the Strawberry Hill area behind Gunn's current grass field, Barron Park resident Douglas Graham said.

"I'm concerned about the proposal to use the Strawberry Hill area for further dumping," he said. Earlier dumping of debris there means that "mud flows through neighboring properties after every heavy storm," he said.

Strawberry Hill is already terribly polluted and degraded from earlier dumping, Barron Park resident Winter Dellenbach agreed.

Rather than depositing displaced dirt on Strawberry Hill, the district could donate it to the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge to help reconstruct the site of the old Cargill plant in the Redwood City baylands, she said.

Or, "the environmentally reasonable thing would be to -- duh -- take it to the landfill. That's why it's called a landfill," she said.

Board members unanimously agreed to add provisions about community involvement to their acceptance of the anonymous gift.

Between now and a February presentation of architectural designs, district officials must meet with community members to discuss environmentally sound construction practices, board members said.

If materials were to be dumped on Strawberry Hill, the district would have to organize meetings with neighboring residents, they said.

And the district must create a protocol for how to meet with the community every time a new group applies to use the turf fields, they said.

The provisions would allow concerns to be heard without derailing fund acceptance and discouraging future donors with a lengthy, belabored approval process, Board Member Mandy Lowell said.

"We need to think about our friendliness to donors," she said.

"We should be standing up and cheering about this ... [rather than saying 'We'll get back to you in a month,'" she said.

In other business, the board:

* Voted unanimously to give take back the site of former Garland Elementary School from its current lessee, the private Stratford School. Stratford has three years before it must vacate the site.

Re-acquiring the site will allow the district to open a thirteenth elementary school or come up with other solutions to cope with growing enrollment, board members agreed at the last meeting.

* Agreed that all district employees will receive a 2.5 percent salary raise this year -- a figure with which Superintendent Skelly expressed disappointment. He said he wished there were more money in the district to provide a bigger increase because "inflation is running higher than 2.5 percent."

Full details about proposed changes to employee contracts are available online at

* Bid farewell to departing board members Mandy Lowell and Gail Price, who have each served eight years. Representatives of Palo Alto-based Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and Senator Joe Simitian were among the many who turned out to praise the two members for their service.

New board members Melissa Baten Caswell and Barbara Klausner will be sworn in at the Dec. 11 board meeting, where incumbent Camille Townsend will begin an additional four-year term.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 14, 2007 at 8:57 am

I think all the arguments against this were made last night and for once it is a good idea to get something going quickly so that the kids can use these fields next fall.

Yes, the old complaints of traffic, noise, etc. will happen, but if you live next to a high school, you made your decision to live near a high school.

My question however, is where does this all fit into the PIE debate. I was under the impression that any gift to the schools had to be evenly distributed to all schools. How will the middle and elementary schools benefit from this gift? (I am not against this, by the way, just asking as it seems that someone is bypassing something to me).

Posted by natasha, a resident of Meadow Park
on Nov 14, 2007 at 10:15 am

Anyone, correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding was that PiE actually only equalizes staffing funds amongst schools. The only thing a private donation cannot be used for is to pay for additional staff, because some schools were fundraising big bucks and had lots of aides and some had almost none and the district felt that was inequitable and caused disparity in education between Palo Alto schools.

So if someone wants to donate, say, a fancy science building at a school site, they can do so. The donation for turf does not in fact have to be matched, spread out, or otherwise equalized district-wide.

Posted by yet another parent, a resident of Escondido School
on Nov 14, 2007 at 10:43 am

I got the impression that equalizing is attempted only amongst like schools. High schools have different needs from middle and elementary schools. Otherwise we'd expect to see swimming pools and theatres in all the elementary schools.

With all the hullabaloo between North-South over pools, lighted fields, tracks, etc., this donor is wise and generous to include both schools in their donation.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 14, 2007 at 12:07 pm

Schools are only allowed to purchase staffing with PIE dollars. Direct donations can be used on anything else the school wishes. So if PTA runs a fair, and raises $ for that school, they can spend it on anything other than direct instructional staffing. The only thing equalized by PIE is direct instructional staffing.

But besides this - this frantic rush to approve has red flags all over it. Again, this BOE forsaking sound process for the sake of blowing in the wind. I'm not opposed to the idea of fake turf, sounds like a good, environmentally sound, money saving idea. BUt it sounds like ALOT of precedent setting loose ends were left dangling in this process. If this BOE has learned nothing, they SHOULD have learned that we need some sound process behind our decision making. Some of the things that are troubling:

-Annonymous donations (again)
-Incomplete info about how much the districts share of cost will be
-RUSH through the board opportunity to ask questions
-Incomplete plan for installation (alot of unanswered questions that could have negative unintended consequences
-Not enough time for community notification, community input.

Again, sneaky, half-baked, rush process. If it was a good idea, then the district should have been willing to do it right. For example, do the homework, do one field at a time. Find an alternative field for the high school football games if one of the fields is not ready by football season. Like they both share the Paly field for the first part of the season while Gunn was being finished, or vice versa. Are they seriuosly saying there was no other alternative than to rush the decision through with incomplete info, and incomplete community vetting process?

C'mon BOE - have a backbone already and start doing things that makes sense. I sure hope that Klausner and Baten-Caswell can put their foot down on this kind of bull-oney

Posted by Parent - Not buying it, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 14, 2007 at 12:32 pm

And for those who say 'thank goodness the BOE is finally rushing through the decision making process (ie: cutting red tape?), you say that NOW because its something you like the idea of - you won't like it so much next time when its something you object to. Maybe that red tape is there to protect the community from a rogue BOE and a cowboy superintendent (and goodness knows, we could never see THAT happen, right?)

And why the heck is this BOE all weak knee'd and compliant for this superintendent? They SHOULD have said, Skelly, run along and do your homework, come back to us at the next meeting with these answers, and we'll take a vote. Easy.

Posted by Arden Pennell, Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
on Nov 14, 2007 at 12:41 pm

Arden Pennell is a registered user.

Hi all,

Please take a look at the updated story above.

The anonymous donor will pay for all costs associated with the synthetic turf fields, according to the district's Chief Business Officer Bob Golton.

To respond to the concerns of "Parent," Gunn's Assistant Principal Tom Jacoubowsky also said last night that construction would begin after athletic seasons end.

Only 15 to 20 spring play-off athletes would need to use the fields during construction, he said.

The district will likely start construction later at one site and have the athletes share the other to accomodate them, he said.

Thanks for all your comments.
Arden, Staff Writer

Posted by Arden Pennell, Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
on Nov 14, 2007 at 12:50 pm

Arden Pennell is a registered user.


To add to the above post:
The 15 to 20 athletes who might need to use the field after the normal season ends would be track and field athletes, Jacoubowsky said.
He added that synthetic turf is safer to play on than grass because maintaining grass fields is enormously costly and the district can't afford it. They develop holes, bare patches and mud streaks that make play less safe, he said.

Arden, Staff Writer

Posted by Parent - Not buying it, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 14, 2007 at 2:37 pm

OK, then they DO have a solution for installing these fields in a way that would overlap with football season, and still allowing football season to proceed. So what exactly was the big rush? The article made it seem like getting it done before football season was the reason they had to rush and the justification for bypassing normal process.

Posted by Dave, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 14, 2007 at 2:48 pm

Construction time frames tend to have overruns. In order to get this thing done by the next football season, an extra month is important. Why should that month be given up to the Palo Alto Process?

My question is: How many potential private donors have been so discouraged by the PA Process, that they simply don't give?

This deal is a slam dunk. Just do it.

Posted by this is a no brainer, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 14, 2007 at 4:58 pm

This has none of the problems with prior donations:

1) It is intended for both high schools so that there is no inequity created

2) It doesn't hook the District into paying what isn't covered by the donation...the donation covers it all

3) It is for something that is part of the District plan already, and simply hasn't been done for lack of funds

There is no priority line jumping, money influencing decisions, inequity in outcome etc.

Since the District is NOT paying for it, there isn't even really a question of the donor trying to "influence" who/where we buy the turf and services from. It is THEIR money.

The only "cost" I can see to the District is some Staff time for managing the process AND the community for something we wanted to do anyway

Posted by If I were a rich man...., a resident of Juana Briones School
on Nov 14, 2007 at 5:03 pm

The amount of hand-wringing last night over, frankly, silly stuff like worries about increased usage ( excuse me..last I checked, when I buy a house next to a High School I expect kids to use it A LOT), badly done "studies" about MRSA, the letter about the heat "burning through the soles" of the soccer shoes......if I were the one giving this money I would have really considered saying the heck with it and go somewhere they would have unmitigated gratitude.

The only thing I could understand, and it was done with gratitude over the gift itself, were the concerns about where to put the dirt, and the desire to have a plan that did not include using whatever that Hill is.

Posted by Mary Carlstead, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 15, 2007 at 8:08 am

About twenty-eight years ago a group of parents from the Palo Alto HS Sports Booster Club including myself went before the BoE of the PAUSD and pleaded for the district to put in automatic sprinklers on all the playing fields at Paly - football, football practice, baseball, etc. The BoE turned a deaf ear and emphatically voted down the idea. At that time the coaches had the extra duty of watering the fields by hand with hoses or dragging hoses and attaching oscillating sprinklers. THEN the athlete-son of a prominent member of the community fell and was painfully injured due to the incredibly accumulated poor condition of the turf, and I seem to remember there had been a drought. He limped in on crutches to a BoE meeting, and the BoE must have seen medical claims and the potential of more to come. The new sprinkler systems went in that summer.

This artifical turf will save the PAUSD a LOT of money in water bills. The gift of this state-of-the art artificial turf is very generous. As a parent-alum, I say 'thank you very much".

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 15, 2007 at 9:26 am

I'm not opposed to the artificial turf fields either. But I am opposed to setting precedent for ignoring sound decision making process to get things done. Again, this time you (and I) LIKE the results to we are OK with them ignoring protocol, next time, maybe not so much??? Hopefully you won't find yourself at the short end of the stick next time.

And if process is notoriously broken, slow, cumbersome, then they should be fixing the process! (not ignoring it)

In terms of annonymity: its not an issue of equity - its an issue of allowing annonymous doners, which creates (among other things), a potential for future favoritism abuse. What if the donation came from say lawn bowling organization, and the lawn bowlers started inexplicably getting first dibs on the fields all of sudden, pushing out AYSO, Little League, and other users. And we don't know this, all we see is all of a sudden a group seems to be jumping up to the front of the line. It has the potential to turn in to selling PAUSD resources to the highest bidder. What if a tennis club secretly paid to have all the tennis courts resurfaced, then magically got all the tennis courts permanently reserved from the hours of 3-10 every day. Or the swimming pools, or the baseball fields, or the MP rooms, whatever. Donations are wonderful, but should not be allowed to be used as secret favor currency. Transparency, a simple requirement that could avoid a lot of problems.

The practice of taking annonymous donations is Wrong. Its a practice that is fraught with potential for abuse. So rather than greedily sucking it up (the faster the better), Skelly should be convincing the doners to identify themselves. Why wouldn't they anyway?

Posted by You said it, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 15, 2007 at 9:40 am


You said it perfectly. There is no excuse for anonymity. It opens the door to abuse and the perception of abuse.

We need transparency.

Posted by Parent, not the same as above, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 15, 2007 at 9:54 am

I see this from both sides. Yes, we shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth, but accept the gift gratefully. Yes, it seems like a wonderful idea and since both schools are reaping the benefits then what is the problem. Yes, we do not want any group giving a gift in the hopes of what they may receive in return as outlined above. Yes we do not want money with any strings attached and coming from a source which may not be completely (should we see)ethical or legit.

However, as someone who likes to make anonymous donations, there is a great deal to be said by remaining anonymous. To begin with, it is less embarrassing. Who wants to be publicly thanked, pointed at as being wealthy, and suddenly find many friends and family who suddenly have devastating needs that you may be able to help with. Certainly not me. If I in my small donations like to remain anonymous, I can certainly understand why a larger donator may wish to remain anonymous.

It is for these sorts of reasons that lottery winners have the ability to remain anonymous. When Parent asks why they should prefer to remain anonymous in case there is anything to hide, that seems like a valid question. However, to someone doing the donating, there could be myriad of reasons why they should.

For me, as long as Skelly (or someone) knows that there are no strings attached and can vouch that the anonymous doner has no ulterior motive for anything other than they want to share their wealth with our kids, that is good enough for me.

And, to the anonymous lottery winner, former PA student now sports star, or whatever, thank you for your gift. We really do appreciate it and hope that you can enjoy what you have done from the sidelines for future PA kids.

Posted by Mike Alexander, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 15, 2007 at 12:46 pm

Will the District compare maintenance costs for the new fields vs. current costs? Artificial turf lasts 7-10 years -- replacement cost is about half the initial installation cost. For rough starters, $2.6 million divided by 10 years divided by 2 equals $130,000 per year. Special equipment, materials, and skills are required to maintain artificial fields -- both to keep them performing properly, and to satisfy manufacturers' warranties. If fields are going to be used for non-sporting events, such as graduations, protective measures are required to prevent expensive damage.

The Sports Turf Managers Association document "A Guide to Synthetic and Natural Turfgrass for Sportsfields" discusses these and other useful considerations. Web link:
Web Link

There is more at stake in this decision than has been discussed so far. The School Board should proceed with caution.

Posted by Here We Go Again, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 15, 2007 at 1:48 pm

Is there anyone or anything we as Palo Altans won't find fault with?
We elected hard-working, dedicated people to reperesent our interests on the School Board. Do we agree with every vote they take? No, but they are doing the job we hired them to do. That's our democratic form of government working as it should. A generous community member has offered to pay for something that will protect our kids, ease the labor of our coaches and help the environment. Both high schools will be treated fairly and equitably. The donor seeks anonymity because, perhaps, as many anonymous donors do, they want to do something good without needing or seeking credit. Only a tiny number of people will know who the donor is. I can't imagine that of those people will have anything to do with future use schedules or anything else. In fact, the donor's anonymity denies many people who might want to "do a favor in return" that opportunity.
Please, Palo Alto, can't we just say "thank you"? How can we possibly inspire other good deeds when the "good guys" are so pubicly denigrated?

Posted by Really, really anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 15, 2007 at 1:58 pm

Is ironic, or comical, that the three posters who decried the anonymity of the gift all posted here.... anonymously?

Posted by You said it, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 15, 2007 at 3:05 pm


I'd agree that there are perfectly legitimate reasons that someone might want to make anonymous donations. But there are no legitimate reasons for the district to accept them. If the donors are not willing to have their names released, the district should not take the donation.


Comical, perhaps, but not ironic. We are offering comments on a website, not money to the district, much as we like to think our comments are priceless.

Posted by Arden Pennell, Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
on Nov 15, 2007 at 4:02 pm

Arden Pennell is a registered user.

To respond to Mike Alexander and others:
Maintaining natural grass costs about $90,000 per year, according to Chief Business Official Bob Golton.
The artificial turf will cost between $300,000 and $350,000 to replace in 10 years, he said.
So the district will save $900,000 in costs the first 10 years, when natural maintenance needn't be funded and the synthetic turf is free, he said.
Each decade thereafter it will save up to $600,000, the difference between the cost of 10 years of maintenance and replacing the fields.

Arden Pennell, Staff Writer

Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 15, 2007 at 5:59 pm

The HUGE factor, that is only mentioned in passing, is the use of fresh water. California is about due for its next drought. Does anybody remember the last one in the 80s? Lawns dried up and died, "if it's yellow, let it mellow; if brown, flush it dowm" was the mantra about toilet use. Water rationing will be much worse this time, due to increased demand. What is the cost of replacing natural grass, once it dies during a drought (not to mention cancelled events, due to the dead lawn)?

Mike Alexander needs to get his thinking helemt on!

Posted by Patricia Taylor, a resident of another community
on Nov 15, 2007 at 6:49 pm

I am a resident and a mother living in Westport, CT. I had concerns about the crumb rubber infill used as a loose component of synthetic turf fields last spring after I read an article in my local paper about a Rutgers University study that showed the shredded rubber contained PAHs. I contacted a Connecticut environmental advocacy group called EHHI (Environment and Human Health, Inc.) This group takes no corporate money. No one pays me, either. EHHI funded a chemical study by a state agency - the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (CAES). The CAES study showed chemicals, including a carcinogen, leaching and outgassing from the shredded tires, at temperatures typical of normal field conditions.

Each field contains roughly 26,000 used tires (120 tons of shredded rubber).

You can see information at

EHHI called for a moratorium on the installation of synthetic turf fields until further on-field testing can be done to see how much chemical exposure children who play on these fields are getting.

There is now a bill introduced in the New York State legislature calling for a moratorium on installing artificial fields with crumb rubber infill until more testing can be done.

Additional testing has been performed on crumb rubber infill in New York state showing that hazardous chemicals, including carcinogens, are coming off the rubber.

These fields are going in all over Connecticut and other states. In many communities the process is started with a large anonymous donation, followed by the formation of a not-for-profit group to collect private donations from community members. Then additional grants and donations are attracted or solicited from other agencies and groups, making the installation of these fields an attractive and seemingly inexpensive improvement to our communities.

But if the shredded rubber - an unregulated product - is found to be toxic, who will be asked to pay for the remediation and removal of these fields and who will be sued for damages if children get sick? You need to find out who will be held liable before you make the decision to install synthetic turf fields containing crumb rubber infill. You need to find out if the anonymous donation is contingent upon the synthetic turf field containing shredded rubber tires.

Make sure you are fully informed, as a community, before you make this decision. It will not be easy to reverse the damage done, should on-going and pending field and lab tests prove that chemicals in the rubber are harming children, the ground, and the water around and running off these fields.

Ask to look at the crumb rubber infill. Get a sample of it. Smell it. Bury your hands in it. Dump some of it on a piece of white paper. What you will see is what is coming home on childrens' clothing. It's on their hair and skin. It's in their shoes and imbedded in their socks after they play on these fields. Here in Connecticut, mothers have complained to me that the rubber is coming off of clothing onto carpets, into washers and dryers, and into their tubs, when children bathe and clothes are washed.

Do we want this for ourselves and our children?

Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 15, 2007 at 7:53 pm

Why are all these scare tactics being lobbed at us? One of the posters on this subject mentioned that roads and streets also have tire material, that has the same chemicals. Patricia Taylor, do you allow your children to ride their bicylces on or near streets, or drive in a car with you?

This is ridiculous. We need to say a big thanks to the donor, build the fields, then get on with life.

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 15, 2007 at 8:28 pm

The rubber infill requires a period of time to "settle" into the turf. When it is first laid down, there is a tendency for it to be more at the surface of the field, and over the course of the first few months of use, it more or less migrates deeper into the turf, and helps provide the desired cushioning effect without accumulating on people's clothing or skin. Call it a "break in " period.

The composition of the rubber fill in material cetainly can be looked into. My anecdotal understanding has been that it consisted of ground up sneaker rubber, but that is not hard data, nor does it indicate what the various alternative compositions are or may be. We may have an opportunity to set an example of what rubber infill we choose for the field if there are some that are showing to be problematic.

But, I largely share John's point of view that we should not over react to the types of concerns suggested by the poster from Connecticut. Look into them yes, mitigate valid risks as much as possible, but let's not lose sight of the fact that the herbicides and the like used on natural turf fields also are not without risk, injuries that are incurred on fields in poor condition have lifetime consequences for many, and there are many things we are exposed to in our going about our daily lives which can be dangerous under certain conditions, but are not risky with even modest levels of exposure.

This is not the next Love Canal. We are not creating future SuperFund sites. To suggest that such is the case is disingenous and alarmist.

Posted by Patricia Taylor, a resident of another community
on Nov 16, 2007 at 4:48 am

This comment responds to John and Paul above.

John - I do allow my kids to ride their bikes and drive with me on the road. I do not, however, allow them to play in the road or in tire dumps or landfills.

Paul - Will some of the shredded rubber in synthetic turf fields comes from old sneakers, most of it comes from shredded rubber tires. It contains a certain amount of rubber dust, as well. As this loose component migrates off these fields, it may be replenished ("fluffed up) during maintenance of these fields.

This is about what you want for yourselves and your children, as a community. My own community looked at the common sense concern of mothers here and chose to install four fields that are used by our schools for phys.ed. and for team sports, as well as recreational play by sports teams. That's a lot of kid hours of exposure to this stuff.

The CAES study outlined a health concern - the four compounds that were conclusively identified with confirmatory tests, were: benzothiazole; butylated hydroxyanisole; n-hexadecane; and 4-(t-octyl) phenol. Approximately two dozen other chemicals were indicated at lower levels.

Your community needs to carefully regard this information. My presentation is neither alarmist nor misleading.

If a rubber tire company came to your community and said this, would you think it is a good idea? - "Pay us $750,000. We will dump 26,000 shredded rubber tires on your school field. Now come and let your children play in it."

Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 16, 2007 at 7:32 am

Patricia Taylor,

Your kids are breathing in rubber dust every time they are on a road or near a road that has traffic. That is a fact. It is also a fact that that rubber dust contains the exact chemicals that you are so concerned about. Since you are using mommy scare tactics, it is fair to ask you why you would allow your children near any street, under any cirumstance. If you really want to protect your children, perhaps you should start a campaign to ban rubber tires.

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 16, 2007 at 8:53 am

I do not want to get into a protracted discussion about materials and the risks they may or may not pose under certain conditions. It is not my area of expertise, and I do support the notion that we should use materials that are safe.

Calling something a health concern is to me alarmist. It is not clear from the Connecticut poster's commentsn what conclusions were drawn from the study she cited. It is one thing to say that compounds were identified, it is something else to suggest that they are a health concern or worse yet, being exposed to a community of people at carcinogenic levels.

I think it is reasonable to expect the school district management to make sure as they work on this project that any risks from certain materials be understood and choices be made in an informed way. And I am sure that they will do that, this is a community where actions taken by the school district get a great deal of scrutiny. I believe one BoE member stated the other night when this project was approved that such analysis should take place as part of the project work plan. I am sure that will happen, and to the extent that questions exist about materials used in these fields, they will be asked, answered and the fields will be constructed to assure the safest playing conditions for those that use them. Palo Alto will settle for nothing less.

Posted by Patricia Taylor, a resident of another community
on Nov 16, 2007 at 8:56 am

John -

You are bringing up an excellent point about avoidable and unavoidable risk. You are also pointing out that each person, each parent, makes numerous calculated risk/benefit analyses every day about their health and their childrens' health.

Some contamination is virtually unavoidable - there are chemicals in the air we breathe, due to air pollution, in the water we drink, due to the use of pesticides and antibiotics for food and heavy metals because of industrial pollution, and in the ground we farm, due to use of chemicals, past and present. We, as people and as parents, try to make good judgements without being extremists about the things we eat and where we live.

Some contamination is avoidable. This is where precautionary thinking is sound and useful.

The fact is that I and my children ARE breathing rubber dust every time they are on a road or near a road that has traffic. I cannot reasonably avoid using my car or keep them from traveling. I hope that we are all, as a country, moving towards a higher awareness of the environmental problems our auto and oil industries are creating to our health and our environment. I am hopeful that we will develop new technologies to mitigate that pollution, and provide our kids with a healthier future.

In the meantime, I try to use common sense and limit my own and my kids' exposure to contamination that I become aware of.

I'm not trying to scare anyone. Like the parents who want synthetic turf fields because they've been told they are safer for children in terms of injuries, I want what is safer for my kids, in terms of chemical exposure to tons of rubber and rubber dust on their playing fields. They can avoid that, if I'm aware of the issue and say, simply "No, thank you."

We are not that different from each other.

Posted by Patricia Taylor, a resident of another community
on Nov 16, 2007 at 9:02 am

The CAES study was not a health assessment in and of itself. It was a chemical study, as was the study done at Rutgers University in 2006 and the RAMP study recently completed in Rochester, NY.

EHHI did publish a critical analysis of the CAES study as well as many other studies available to them as of August 29, 2007. They concluded that there were serious health concerns, that more testing needed, and that the chemicals outgassing and leaching did constitute a chemical exposure to children playing on the fields.

And there is this, from the NY Times recently -

Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, a professor of pediatrics and the chairman of preventive medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, agreed that there should be a moratorium on new fields, and said that tests should be done on the skin, urine and blood of children before and after they play on them. He also said the turf poses other dangers, besides the exposure to chemicals."

The question is simple, and not one for me to answer - Does Palo Alto want to install these fields and let their children play on them while they are being tested to see if they are safe?

Posted by Lindsay Joye, a resident of Terman Middle School
on Nov 16, 2007 at 10:14 am

As the original voice of concern over the toxic rubber pellets, I primarily wanted a bit more time to have both sides heard on this issue. The Board appeared to be rushing solely because this is a gift.

I am concerned about safe level fields as both of my kids play 3-4 x/week and my husband referees. I am also concerned about water consumption & pesticide use on grass fields. I was initially happy to see Mayfield get synthetic turf and have fewer games and practices cancelled by rain.

However, I want the decision to go synthetic to be well thought out and to address any concerns. I was shocked to see a New York State Assemblyman propose a BAN on all new synthetic fields until the environmental hazards are evaluated.

Unfortunately humans have a history of rushing decisions to make advances at the expense of the environment and our health. How many more childhood cancers will we face by adding to our exposure?

To John who keeps saying "I bet you don't let your kids bike or play near the road", I say let us not ADD to our chemical exposure without a fair evaluation of risk. Let the information be presented and considered. And yes, I do let me kids bike, because I refuse to ADD more pollution by driving them one mile to school. I'm teaching them to take responsibility for their actions to improve this world.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2007 at 10:17 am

I think we have to be careful and be realistic here.

While I was growing up, I lived in a home with a heavy smoker, I played in playgrounds with lead paint, I had asbestos in my home, even to the extent that I played with the asbestos pad on my mother's ironing board as it had a lovely layery consistentcy and was great fun to pull apart. I had a diet rich in heavy fats from cheesy sauces, creamy sauces, lots of eggs and butter and red meat, because my parents were under the impression that the expensive foods were the best for me. I ate less fresh fruit and veg than I do now, although I did eat some every day. I walked more, rode my bike more and played outside more, but did less "exercise" or pe than my kids do. Were by parents bad parents because they didn't look after me better, no of course not. They were acting on what was the norm and there was very little statistical expertise for them to use in their parenting. Did I turn out to be a healthy, well adjusted adult who could produce healthy offspring, yes of course.

My point in all this is that the more research done gives us as parents more worries and concerns, but often not much more. The mud I got in the playground covered in lead paint flakes and the air with asbestos and cigarette smoke, did me very little harm even though we know today that these are toxic. The more research done only provides us with more statistics of very minute chances of something being bad for us or our kids. One day eggs are bad for you and the next they are good for you. Some fats are bad for you, others you actually need.

I don't want scare tactics. I want sensible precautions. All this scaremongering about a few chemicals in the rubber of a synthetic turf my kids play on at school is a real concern, but just as minute as the many warnings I get on every single product, food, activity, etc. I let my kids come into contact every day. Yes, I can make informed decisions about things. I choose to let my kids play sports, I personally like the safety and clean aspect of artificial turf, I trust the school board to make sensible precautions. I can't fine tooth research every product my kids come into contact with, I have a life to live and more pressing parenting duties.

I can sleep at night, without worries.

Posted by Mike Alexander, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 16, 2007 at 11:26 am

I agree, John, that water use is an important item on the balance sheet. Artificial turf also requires some water for washing (dust, sweat, blood, spit, Gatorade, etc.). To say water use goes to zero is misleading. It's also misleading for Bob Golton to say maintenance is free during the 10-year life of artificial turf -- it is not.
I don't really care one way or the other about the project. I do hope the Board makes its decision based on accurate projections for the life-cycle of the material, and isn't blinded by the dazzling generosity of the start-up gift.
Another piece of local history: Remember in the 70's when the School Board sold several elementary school sites because they were told the student population would never again require that many schools?

Posted by Patricia Taylor, a resident of another community
on Nov 16, 2007 at 12:32 pm

Lindsay Joye wrote -

"I say let us not ADD to our chemical exposure without a fair evaluation of risk."

That is an excellent comment.

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 16, 2007 at 12:40 pm

The lifetime of this stuff is not fully understood, since the first generation of this technology of sport turf, introduced in the late 1990's, has not yet gone through a complete life cycle. But a few points worth noting:

--like anything, its useful life depends on its level of use, the environment in which it is used, and the maintenance program applied to it. Just like other assets with which we are familiar such as our homes or cars. If anything, this should be to Palo Alto's advantage, as the fields are contemplated for relatively limited use compared to community fields, our climate here is quite benign, and the fields will be well maintained

--the stuff that came out several years ago has been improved a great deal in more recent times, which should help with durability, wear, etc. Classic learning curve knowledge the suppliers of this product have experienced

--purely from a numbers standpoint, the payback on this investment is around 7 years, due to savings in maintenance and upkeep. Of course it requires such treatment, the Mayfield site just had a big, routine upkeep program completed on it 2 years after it was opened, but compared to what has to be done with playing fields with natural turf, it was much less costly, and is required much less frequently.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2007 at 12:47 pm

Read the website provided by a poster above, in the section about maintenance equipment needed was listed sanitization equipment and sanitization sprays to prevent bacterial growth from bodily fluids.

Its not maintenance free. Is PAUSD committed to the proper maintence? And how much does that cost? Did anyone bother to find out?

Again, the issue is breakdown in process. Why did the district again bypass the process to rush this though? No good answer on that yet. They have a solution for sharing fields while one field is being installed, so what exactly is the big urgent rush all about?

Not impressed with Skelly. Not impressed with the board.

Posted by Patricia Taylor, a resident of another community
on Nov 16, 2007 at 2:10 pm

Paul Losch wrote this above: "The lifetime of this stuff is not fully understood, since the first generation of this technology of sport turf, introduced in the late 1990's, has not yet gone through a complete life cycle."

This is a good observation. The fact is that crumb rubber is not regulated by the EPA. It is interesting to note that this generation of field technology using crumb rubber infill was after the EPA failed to classify old tires as "solid waste," so they could be burned as fuel to eliminate the growing stockpile of tires.

This from the Washington Post (September 18, 2007) at Web Link

"A new industry that recycles old tires into fuel, saving companies millions of dollars and reducing a billion-tire national stockpile, is in limbo after a U.S. appeals court tossed out some federal clean-air rules.

In the past decade, owners of industrial boilers considered themselves do-gooders because they had the Environmental Protection Agency's blessing to burn alternative fuels, including old tires. Yet environmental groups said the practice dodged clean-air requirements by classifying incinerators as boilers, which have less stringent emission rules.

On June 8, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia agreed, heading off a new EPA rule that was to go into effect last week and forcing the agency to come up with a new definition of "solid waste."

"Tires will become a pariah if they are classified as a solid waste," said Michael Blumenthal, senior technical director for the Rubber Manufacturers Association in the District, which represents major tire manufacturers. He said the impact of the ruling would be "monumental.""

If this ruling holds, used rubber will be re-regulated as "solid waste." It will be a matter of legal opinion, at that point, whether crumb rubber is also "solid waste."

When this happens, who will pay for the remediation of crumb rubber infill on sports fields? Will these fields become hazardous waste sites and, if so, what will that mean for the communities in which they sit, in terms of cost and liability.

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 16, 2007 at 3:13 pm

Mike Alexander,

Unless large-throw sprinklers are used for evapaortive cooling (not a necessity in this enviroment, although useful on very hot days), there is NO fresh water used. The natural rainfall is relied upon the cleanse the field, to the extent that it is even necessary. The savings in fresh water are enormous.

Maintenance is not free, you are correct. These fields need to be swept and reconditioned about twice a year (at least once per year). There is specilaized, relatively inexpensive, equipment available to do this, or it can be contracted out. However, the maintenance required is MUCH lower than natural grass fields.

Every ten years or so, the carpet of synthetic turf will need to be replaced, or patched. This will cost money, obviously. However, the major cost of synthetic turf is the base prep work, done at initial installation. This does not need to be done again. It is a simple matter of laying new carpet. Compared to the cost of annual sod replacement and repair (natural grass), there is a large savings with synthetic turf.

Synthetic turf plays even and relatively soft, and reduces major injuries, compared to standard-issue natural grass in a community playfield environment.

Synthetic turf allows all season play, even during rain downpours. It drains very quickly.

Synthetic turf is not perfect, considering increased playing field temperatures, and rubber sand issues (natural sand can be used instead of rubber, but it produces a harder playing surface, and is harder to maintain).

By any reasonable standard, synthetic turf is huge benefit.

Mike, I completely agree with you about the irrational decision to sell off our old school sites. I disagreed with it then, and now it is biting us in the ass. They should have been leased out, not sold.

Posted by good grief, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 18, 2007 at 7:52 am

oh my gosh. and where was all the complaining about changing all the playgrounds in the parks and schools to a very rubber padding under the playground? It is so rubbery, it smells like a tire yard for a year after installation!

come on guys.

We do the best we can, and weigh the benefits of each as we can. This turf has been on our list, weighed and decided on, for years, and not done yet simply because of funds. The donor has extremely generously decided to not just do the one school s/he prefers, but both, so that there are no equity issues. There are no "anonymous donor" issues because s/he is paying the full cost, therefore not tying PAUSD into feeling obliged to buy from one vendor or another ( if it were a percent of the cost, I would question if there were vendor choice influencing "anonymously" happening, but it is the full cost).

This hand wringing is embarrassing and makes me think we won't get any more donations.

Posted by good grief, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 18, 2007 at 7:54 am

by the way, I am an anonymous donor. I give anonymously whenever I give more than a couple hundred dollars to something. I won't give if I am forced to reveal who I am if it is a big gift.

Revealing who I am leads to far too much embarrassment socially, and gives me a nasty taste in my mouth about questioning my motives for being generous. I don't want to give for public recognition, but because I can and it is the right thing to do.

So, be careful with your calls for never having anonymous donations. If you set up the parameters of anonymous giving right, as has happened in this case, there are no problems with it.

Posted by good grief, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 18, 2007 at 8:02 am

BTW, I have to add...I used to call myself an "environmentalist" and a "feminist", until both labels came to be associated with ideologues whose only purpose was to close doors to reasonable thinking.

"Environmentalists" who are objecting to this will object to absolutely anything. Frankly, I am surprised that someone, somewhere, hasn't called to erase ALL grass in PAUSD because it requires water and some pesticide use. After all, that isn't a completley natural use of our land, is it? The problem with single issue organizations is that there is little thought to weighing priorities, and nothing is ever enough. I was battered around by the debate on cloth diaper service versus disposable until I was black and blue, and I finally realized that they are both "environmentally" unsound, and the only solution was to stay home and wash diapers by hand with almost no soap and certainly no bleach.

The problem is that we are humans, and we use resources. To not use resources requires us to go back to the days when we only hunted and gathered..that is all.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 19, 2007 at 4:55 pm

What do they mean by 'sports fields'? Do they mean the football field at each school? Or the entire grass field areas including baseball, softball, and everything?

Posted by Susanne, a resident of another community
on Nov 20, 2007 at 11:30 am

Why take a chance on crumb rubber infill? In Europe they are using other materials. Have your school board look for alternatives. You can also get a field without infill. The donor did not specify that you had to use crumb rubber.

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 20, 2007 at 11:35 am


The donation is for the football fields only.


Please provide your references for the alternative fill materials (or no fill). Thanks.

Posted by Susanne, a resident of another community
on Nov 20, 2007 at 1:24 pm

Here is a link for another type of rubber infill:

Web Link

XPS infill is made by Terrasport, a dutch company. Sportexe which installs artificial turf fields in the US has a product called BladeMaster that is available with XPS infill. So far the infill has only been used in Europe where the crumb rubber has been an issue for some time.

Sportexe also has a product called "Victory Turf" that they have said can be installed for all the field sports (including football). Go to the Sportexe web site but also contact them if you decide you want to look into alternatives.

Posted by Susanne, a resident of another community
on Nov 20, 2007 at 1:27 pm

I left out that "Victory Turf" can be installed without infill.

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 20, 2007 at 5:40 pm


Thanks for the references. The technology is improving, as it should. I am confident that the various options will be considered, as the project moves forward.

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