As many of us gear up for the last football game of the 2021-22 season this Sunday, we should take a look further forward towards what is planned for football in the Ludington area for the future.  You may wind up losing some money by betting on the wrong team to win the Superbowl, but you may lose a whole lot more every season as a taxpayer if the Ludington Area School District (LASD) goes ahead with a plan to install artificial turf at Oriole Field at a cost of nearly $1 million (likely over a million when adjusted for the recent jumps in inflation).  Additionally, our children who play football and soccer may ultimately suffer health consequences for the district's short-sighted and fallacious assumptions regarding the change.

At the February 2nd meeting of the LASD Board where they decided to place a renewal of the sinking fund millage, the biggest prospective use of the fund (if passed) was a football field modification:

The 'turf replacement' was set to take place at the far end of the proposed sinking funds duration:

This reporter had never heard that Oriole Field had its natural grass replaced by artificial turf in the first place so that it could be replaced.  After confirming that the field was still real grass by a visit to the facility, I learned after talking to the new superintendent, Kyle Corbett, that the conversion from grass to turf was part of the Oriole Field updates in the $101 million 2019 bond proposal, and that the project had yet to be done or even bid out.  Sure enough, it was in the bond's treasury application at the top of athletic improvements: 

The change had apparently even made the local newspaper just before the bond had passed where the former superintendent had explained the acquisition:  

"Kennedy said the cost for field turf is $900,000. If voters approve the bond, the district can use the design phase to take a closer look at installing artificial turf, Kennedy said, noting that the current grass field is expensive to maintain and artificial turf can last for several years.

“We are looking at the cost effectiveness of having field turf put in versus the cost of maintaining it on an annual basis,’ Kennedy said. “You generally find that within an 8-to-10-year window the district has come out ahead. With all of the advancements, those (artificial turf) fields are lasting 12 to 15 and up to 20-plus years.”"

The issue of replacing turf has not reached the school board since the bond has been passed, and since the 'design phase' has already took place, and since they have already made plans to replace the faux grass in 2034, it appears that the decision to make the switch to artificial turf has been made outside of the decision-making body of the district.

Whoever made the decision is likely to have received their input only from people who make a living by marketing and selling artificial turf fields for the big bucks.  If they had allowed the issue to come in front of the public, they may have learned that there are very valid arguments that would lead most sensible people away from the $1 million purchase.  Let's look at a comparison of the two types of fields, and see how it applies to our local situation:

In Ludington there would be no construction costs to keep the field made of grass, at least $900,000 to switch, that $900,000+ will need to be paid again in a dozen years.  For those wanting turf over grass, they usually point at the maintenance savings-- turf doesn't need to be cut.  But look at the maintenance savings in the above table, made about five years ago.  

The difference between two school district maintenance costs were about $2600 in favor of turf, but oddly enough the turf required additional hours to maintain.  At two division one university schools the maintenance costs are under $2000 per year in favor of an artificial field.  This suggests that we can spend $900,000 now and save around $2000 per year for a dozen years, which still leaves us $876,000 in front-loaded debt over that time -- and then you have another major hit to the budget to reconstruct the turf, a cost equal to that first time, plus inflation.

The cost is prohibitive, but the cost to the health of the kids who play on artificial fields is perhaps even more prohibitive.  During summer practices, it is quite possible, even on the left coast of Lake Michigan, that the surface temperature of your fake fields will be well over 100 degrees.  In 2011, Penn State University did a study to compare surface temperatures during hot days. The study found that the surface temperature of synthetic fields reached anywhere from 140 degrees to 170 degrees on summer days. In the same study it was found that natural grass rarely reached above 85 degrees on the same type of days. 

The majority of professional football teams (aka the NFL) play on grass, with a study done in 2010 showing that 82 percent of players thought that artificial turf would contribute to injury and almost 90 percent believed that playing on these surfaces were more likely to shorten their careers.  

Their fears were warranted according to one study which looked at all NFL games in the years 2012-2016 and showed playing on synthetic turf in the NFL resulted in a 16% increase in lower body injuries (foot, ankle, knee) compared to the same injuries on natural grass.  If every NFL game were played on natural grass during these five seasons, there would have been 319 fewer lower body injuries, accordingly.  Other types of injuries did not significantly differ between the two surfaces.

ESPN did a study with 104 MLS players in 2018 and asked their opinions on artificial playing surfaces. Sixty-three percent of the players said an artificial surface would impact their decision to sign with teams.  Some of the things the players said included: “No. As long as they train mostly on grass.” and "I don't like turf, plain and simple. The times I played on it, it takes a day or two extra to recover."  

Public health concerns about playing on synthetic turf fields have increased over reports that young adult soccer players, particularly goalies, are being diagnosed with blood cancers, presumably from rubber crumbs that make up the turf.   Artificial turf is often treated with biocides; it has been associated with increased risk of infections from MRSA, which can lead to pneumonia, sepsis and bloodstream infections that can prove fatal. A MRSA infection can happen after skin is scraped or cut on artificial turf.  As turf technology advances, this may be less of a problem in the future, but the cost of the turf is likely to rise since they will have to use more expensive materials.

So where is the benefit to the people of Ludington in making the switch of playing surfaces?  Hard to say, nobody is debating the issue from their side, but let's leave the subject by looking at Michigan State University and their football fields over the years. 

MSU first installed artificial turf back in 1969, it effectively failed in under five years and needed to be replaced with another synthetic surface which required regular replacement until 2002, when the university replaced it with a hybrid modular system which actually won a couple of awards over the next 16 years-- but then MSU decided to change once again back to natural grass in 2019, 50 years after they initially replaced it, and have been very pleased with the result. 

Can you imagine the amount of savings on installation and de-installation they could have realized over those years if they had just kept it real?  Can the decision-makers behind the curtain at LASD learn from the Spartan experience?  Can they keep it real for the health and safety of our kids?

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More info on the Scottville bond proposal.  I'd add that it's just bad timing to base your bond proposal's marketing on constructing a new performing arts center, when the prior school year you had on-line instruction and mask mandates throughout, a mandate which the board imposed at the start of this year on their own initiative.  Over that time, they have got a couple million dollars in ESSER funds from the federales while their teacher's union argue to keep the fear theater going.  

If you want to see great acting ability, watch these officials, with plenty of help from Rob Alway, market this bond proposal as if it is a dire necessity.  Those thespian skills did not come from their internship at Interlochen, but it will likely be enough to get this thing passed.

The EPA has a wide variety of studies dealing with artificial turf and how they affect the environment, especially those made up of recycled tires.  A couple of years ago, The Intercept had a good article on environmental impacts of fake turf, where it cited new evidence that PFAS, along with a host of petrochemicals that are carcinogenic that are part of the rubber used to form this turf.  It also noted PFOS were present in 'used' turf, so much so that they contaminated a nearby water source.  

From what I've read, the main issue at Oriole Field wouldn't necessarily be Lake Michigan (though as you note, the area's drinking water comes too close to where the runoff from rain would accumulate), but other nearby bodies of water in the drainage field that would have a high concentration of these harmful chemicals after a good storm.  Reportedly, in some locations, these have become uninhabitable for the flora and fauna that usually thrive there.  Thus, it could negatively affect nearby baseball fields with poor drainage.

Great job X. I doubt that most folks knew anything about this absolutely wasteful project. Just 1 of many that have plagued Ludington's taxpayers. It should be no surprise that the weasels have once again tried to slip this past the public by keeping it low key and treating it as just another ho hum expense. Don't think for a minute this will be the end of it. So, what's next? Perhaps they will  desire a new and updated track facility to match the field then of course a new stadium would certainly make everyone happy. And we can't forget the baseball and softball fields. If the football program gets new ground covering then we all know the baseball and softball  fields are next. How about installing turf at Stearns Park and importing sand from Hawaii.

This is what they really want:

Good points, Lake Lady. It does seem there is a bigger force at work here who might think the high taxes and crazy water fees will draw young families into a premier school zone. I hope so, but it seems the trend is going as you described--most resort areas to become seasonal retirement communities.
Just one more thought on the school subject and the "exodus" --residents moving out of the city of Ludington. The outlying townships that have their own water supply (or well) and lower township taxes seem to benefit from a premier school and may have had a force in the yes vote. Doesn't it seem like the residents of the city are in a way subsidizing the outlying areas? So many with a brain for finances will move out of the city and what will happen to the quality of the city?
Thanks LL.. I meant to say ... and my sentiments were... similar to what you wrote, but you said it more explicitly. 400 moved out of Ludington last year? That's huge. How many moved in and what were their demographics? It would be very interesting knowing these facts.

FS, here is something from the most recent city council packet (p. 100).  It shows that the 2020 census has the city population at 7655, down about 5% (400) from 2010 numbers.  It also shows trends within the City of Ludington that was re-warded back after 2010's census into as-equal-as-possible districts.  Wards 1,2, and 5 needed to grow to annex more people, these are all north of Ludington Avenue.  Wards 3,4, and 6 that are primarily south of Ludington Avenue, have all been diminished.  The ward map is also in the packet since they plan on redrawing the wards-- albeit it's probably over 90% likely that your ward hasn't changed if you live in the City. 

Thanks X, for that link. That's is a significant and surprising loss of city population but bears with my sentiments ... why live in a city with polluted expensive water, a city council that caters to part-time tourists over resident needs, a debt that seems to be exploding, and property taxes that almost doubled in ten years time even before a crazy new $100 million grade school for a population of less than 8000. Time to wake up city councilors and city administrators. People are not stupid when it comes time to pay the tax bill.

Let's not forget that a large percentage of property tax collected in the townships and Ludington are from non exempt homesteaders. These are part time residents with vacation homes and property. Not only do they pay the same tax rates as homesteaders but they pay much more because they do not qualify for the homestead exemptions. Also, a few years ago the homesteaders voted to increase the non homesteaders taxes which are far more than what a permanent resident pays. The non homesteaders do not use local schools and use local resources far less than permanent residents but they are made to pay far more than their fair share of taxes in support of the community. Locals owe a big thanks to these part time residents. If not for them the Ludington area would be scraping along and would barely be able to pay the bills. If not for them Ludington would be a larger version of Scottville.

It's the tax code, Willy, it isn't necessarily supposed to make sense.  Taxes are rarely set up as if they are user-fees, they are more of a redistribution scheme.  So one household with eight school age children may pay very little for their kid's education in the local public school in their taxes, but the vacant house next door owned by an elderly Florida couple who come up for a couple of weeks in the summer has the school taxes as a large portion of their burden.  It's little wonder why the eight-is-enough parents will vote for school bond proposals, while the Florida couple will not-- especially since they cannot vote on it. 

It's taxation without representation, but unfortunately, you will never see the funding system get reformed sensibly, or move to a system where competition among schools can be used to make them more efficient and root out the bad ones, not as long as you have public service unions and political parties that are invested into the negative evolution of public schools.

Good post LL. A well laid out explanation of common sense and reasoning.

Tomorrow at 6 PM in a meeting at the Ludington High School, the board is set to send $1,351,000 to the Astroturf Company to install some as-yet-identified turf material at Oriole Field.  This is 50% more than they claimed last February.  The estimated annual cost of extra maintenance for a grass field is liberally $30,000, so the astroturf purchase will break even after 45 years.  By that time the turf will have to be replaced four more times at even higher costs each time.  


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