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The Journal Gazette

  • Photos by Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Woodlan's warrior mascot is featured prominently in the middle of their new synthetic-turf field.

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette New Haven High School on Thursday June 21, one of the four EACS turf football fields that are in various degrees of being installed this summer.

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Heritage High School on Thursday June 21, one of the four EACS turf football fields that are in various degrees of being installed this summer.

  • Crews have begun installing the new field at Leo High School. The cost of putting in the four new fields is $3.2 million.

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Leo High School on Thursday June 21, one of the four EACS turf football fields that are in various degrees of being installed this summer.

  • Construction equipment sits on the area where New Haven High School will be getting its new field this summer.

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Woodlan High School on Thursday June 21, one of the four EACS turf football fields that are in various degrees of being installed this summer.

  • Heritage High School’s new field was installed in the spring.

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Leo High School on Thursday June 21, one of the four EACS turf football fields that are in various degrees of being installed this summer.

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Woodlan High School on Thursday June 21, one of the four EACS turf football fields that are in various degrees of being installed this summer.

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette New Haven High School on Thursday June 21, one of the four EACS turf football fields that are in various degrees of being installed this summer.

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Leo High School on Thursday June 21, one of the four EACS turf football fields that are in various degrees of being installed this summer.

Sunday, July 08, 2018 1:00 am

EACS adds turf fields at four schools

Woodlan, Heritage, Leo, New Haven get $3.2 million upgrade

GREG JONES | The Journal Gazette

When it comes to getting turf fields, East Allen County Schools decided the best thing would be to buy in bulk.

As part of the current $87.5 million building project, the school district is having four synthetic-turf fields installed at Heritage, Leo, New Haven and Woodlan high schools during the summer. 

Half of the $3.2 million turf project was started a month earlier than the other half, with Heritage's and Woodlan's installation starting in the spring and being completed around July 1. Leo and New Haven are expected to get their fields Aug. 1. 

“You want the kids to be excited, and you want them to have pride in their building and their identity,” EACS superintendent Marilyn Hissong said. “We really pride ourselves in our buildings, and this is just another piece of that.”

Turf fields, mainly used for football, are nothing new for high schools around northeast Indiana. The trend started when Homestead got a turf field in 2004 and has continued with East Noble, Bluffton, Warsaw, Wawasee and Bishop Dwenger's practice field.

It is becoming commonplace as well across the state, especially in metro areas such as Indianapolis. 

But getting four at once is a rarity. EACS eventually went with The Motz Group from Cincinnati for the turf project. 

“When it came to the fields and doing them all that the same time ... from my perspective as one member of the board, it was an all-go or no-go,” EACS board president Bob Nelson said. “A positive challenge was the ability to negotiate four fields, instead of one. And not negotiate two fields this year and two more in two or three years, but to be able to sit down with the Motz Group and the contractors ... and say you will get this times four.”

As with the rest of the building project, safety was the top priority for the football fields. School officials and board members were educated in “GMax,” which is a term used to describe the surface hardness score assigned to an athletic field. This is especially important in the age of concussion awareness in football and soccer at all levels.

“As we went to those areas, turf fields kept coming to the top,” Nelson said of officials going to each attendance area for districtwide improvements. “And it came to the top for safety. The safety issue was brought up during these listening tours to keep our kids safe. We hear about concussions and GMax. This answers that. This cuts the GMax fairly well in half.”

The timing of installing four turf fields, which will also be used for soccer, band and other endeavors, was a challenge for district officials. They were staggered, but ultimately the four fields were put in during the summer as to be ready for competition just as football practices will begin in August. 

“In order for them to move from those two fields to the next two fields, we had to have a timeline to accommodate us,” Hissong said. “So that did mean the schools had to give up a few things at Heritage and Woodlan, like their track events. They had to practice in the parking lots or go to another school to practice. But this school year when they have the nice, new track area for all their events and the field, it will be worth the wait.”

EACS also paid for the maintenance package from The Motz Group, which will help keep the fields in good shape until they will need to be replaced in 8 to 13 years.

When that time does come, though, the school corporation was proactive in having to replace four turf fields essentially at the same time. EACS has begun selling sponsorships for the fields, with logos on their four corners.

The first two were sold to Parkview hospital with “Parkview Health” on one sideline and “Parkview Sports Medicine” on the other side. 

“A superintendent from Kentucky that contacted us was like, 'Are you serious, you guys are doing four at the same time?' ... He was like 'we did one and then waited for two years for another one, and we have a third one being put in later this year,'” Hissong said. “He was like 'what are you going to do since they will all go bad at the same time,' and I told him about the sponsorships. He asked me to send him all the forms we are using for sponsorships.”

This was all part of the process of school officials educating themselves on turf fields at the high school level from other schools and districts around the state and region. Schools are now contacting EACS looking for information and advice on turf fields.

“There was some potential to make some missteps along the way, but we had a better shot at getting it right because we learned from other people things that didn't go well that we could keep ourselves from falling into,” Hissong said.

Although the four fields will have their own distinctive looks with the school name in one end zone, the nickname in the other end zone and the mascot logo in the middle, the “EACS” emblazoned near midfield brings the four schools and the four fields together as one entity.

“We want the unity of the district,” Hissong said. “I want to see it as one, even though we have our different communities. That's very important even when you see it displayed on each field where it says 'EACS.' It is just like anything else, you want everybody to feel important because they are. We didn't want to leave anyone out, and we wanted everybody included. We felt like all the football and soccer players to have the safety factor, and so we knew the turf fields would provide that opportunity for them.”

And, yes, officials know the Warrior head logo at Woodlan faces away from the home bleachers. But when new bleachers are installed in two years, they will be placed on the other side of the field so the logo was flipped deliberately in anticipation of facing the home side of the field in the future.

Funding for athletic reasons can raise some questions, but Nelson said because of support from parents, residents, students, school personnel and fans (in the form of booster clubs), the turf project has been well received by the public.

“It was minimized because of the help that we got from our constituents, the true owners of the fields,” Nelson said. “That group made it so much easier. But you will have naysayers ... those things are out there, but we had such strong backing.”

gjones@jg.net