Tattered turf leads to lawsuits nationally, annoyance in Iowa

Artificial turf maker FieldTurf playing defense in lawsuit

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Coe College replaced parts of the artificial turf on its football field twice within the product’s eight-year warranty because the synthetic grass fibers came out, exposing rubber underneath.

But Coe Athletic Director John Chandler said both swaps were free for the college and there was no hassle from FieldTurf, a Montreal company facing federal and state lawsuits over allegations it exaggerated claims of durability of the turf fields.

“Initially everyone was like, ‘You’re going to get 12 to 15 years out of this,’” Chandler said of the FieldTurf Duraspine turf that Coe installed at Clark Field in 2007. “I had seen wear and tear elsewhere and I knew it wasn’t going to last that long.”

A six-month investigation by NJ Advance Media in New Jersey found FieldTurf sold more than 1,400 Duraspine fields, at an average of $300,000 to $500,000 each, from 2005 to 2012. FieldTurf marketed Duraspine as lasting more than 10 years even as company executives knew it was falling apart, NJ Advance Media reported.

The issue wasn’t with safety — the fibers are mainly for looks. Rather, critics said the company used deceptive practices to get schools and towns to buy pricey playing surfaces with the idea the investment could be recouped over a longer period of time.

This was particularly galling for some districts because it happened during the Great Recession, when many schools’ budgets were slashed.

Internal company emails obtained by NJ Advance Media showed FieldTurf co-founder John Gilman warning company executives they needed to be more honest with buyers.

“The claims made regarding the Duraspine … fiber are ridiculous. Every day we are putting stuff out there that can’t and won’t live up to the marketing spin. We have to control this somehow!!!” Gilman wrote in November 2007.

A year later he wrote: “Duraspine is not all that it’s cracked up to be especially in terms of wear resistance.”

Iowa fields

At least 15 Iowa college and high school football fields have or had Duraspine fields, according to an NJ Advance Media database. This includes the University of Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium, Cedar Rapids’s Kingston Stadium and Clear Creek Amana’s football field.

As of mid-May, 13 lawsuits, including several seeking class-action status, have alleged fraud by FieldTurf. No suits have been filed in Iowa.

“Am I little bit frustrated it hasn’t held up as well as we hoped? Yeah,” Kurt Ronnfeldt, the Clear Creek Amana athletic director, told The Gazette. “But it’s still very much worth it to have it.”

Clear Creek Amana decided to go with artificial turf in 2009 as part of a new high school athletic complex because turf takes less maintenance and can withstand heavy use — even after rain, Ronnfeldt said.

The Duraspine field is made of individual strands of grasslike fibers bundled together to stand upright in a shock-absorbing base of sand and rubber. Pieces of turf with different colors are sewn into the green base to make lines, logos and the end zones.

“We’ve been happy with it from a convenience standpoint,” Ronnfeldt said. “There’s no mowing, no painting of lines.”

But in 2015, six years after the field was installed, Ronnfeldt noticed the lines were no longer crisp as white fibers pulled out of the base. Those issues have worsened and now the green Duraspine fibers lie flat in many places, even after being groomed, he said. The district plans to replace the turf next summer, officials said.

“If we want to do it at that time, we’re going to pay to redo it,” Ronnfeldt said.

Kingston Stadium’s 86,550-square-foot Duraspine turf also was laid in May 2009. The field serves three high schools with nearly 250 events a year, including football and soccer games, marching band performances and special events, such as the Relay for Life Linn County, said stadium Manger Matt Dunbar.

“It’s kind of matted looking and the tips break down because of the UV (exposure),” Dunbar said. “The question is what is normal breakdown and what is excessive?”

FieldTurf has offered to install a new Duraspine field for free or its next-generation turf, Revolution 360, for $200,000, Dunbar said. Both products would come without a warranty, he said.

Dunbar’s not sure whether the district will choose FieldTurf or another vendor when replacing the turf in the next two to three years.

Satisfied customers

Contractors in May started tearing out the Duraspine field in UI’s Kinnick Stadium — but not because of dissatisfaction with the product.

The turf replacement is part of an $89 million north end zone renovation that will include new restrooms, a concourse, concessions, videoboard and more than 1,600 premium seats, according to the UI.

“We are not aware of the issues with the turf that you mention,” the UI told The Gazette, referring to news reports by NJ Advance Media.

The UI put in the Duraspine field in May 2009, replacing a grass field that had been there since 1986. A Gazette video from May 29, 2009, shows Jane Meyer, a former UI athletics administrator, talking about the $2 million project to fix drainage and install the artificial turf.

UI officials said at that time they expected the turf to last eight years — which it did, albeit with much lighter use than a busy high school field. Kinnick’s new FieldTurf’s Revolution 360 will cost about $420,000.

Many schools have stood by FieldTurf, in part because of strong relationships with sales representatives. It was a FieldTurf rep who called Chandler, the Coe athletic director, in 2010 to say the company was seeing problems with the gold-colored turf used for the Coe Kohawk.

“FieldTurf had people out here right away,” he said. The company replaced the end zones and logo in 2010, returning in 2014 to replace the green portions of the turf — all under warranty, Chandler said.

“With this replacement, maybe we can get another eight years out of it,” he said. “People I know are very happy with it.”

FieldTurf Chief Executive Officer Eric Daliere, in a video message on the company’s website, apologized to schools in the southern and western United States that faced premature turf deterioration because of intense sun exposure. The company, now owned by Tarkett, acknowledged to NJ Advance Media nearly one of every five Duraspine fields in the United States has been replaced under warranty. However, Daliere said in the video that warranty claims in “low-UV environments” were less than 1 percent.

“We’ve gotten tremendous support from customers that know our fields aren’t going to last forever,” Daliere said.

FieldTurf sued its former supplier of the Duraspine fibers in 2011 over quality and durability issues and reached an undisclosed settlement in 2014, NJ Advance Media reported.

l Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

Iowa Schools with FieldTurf Duraspine

Iowa School/DistrictCityDate Installed
Central CollegePella7/1/2006
Clear Creek AmanaTiffin5/1/2009
Coe CollegeCedar Rapids6/1/2007
Davenport Central SchoolsDavenport12/1/2007
Fort Dodge High SchoolFort Dodge8/1/2008
Graceland UniversityLamoni8/1/2007
Grandview College - Williams StadiumDes MoinesN/A
Indianola High SchoolIndianola6/1/2009
Johnston High SchoolJohnston7/1/2006
Cedar Rapids - Kingston StadiumCedar Rapids5/1/2009
University of Iowa - Kinnick StadiumIowa City6/1/2009
Urbandale High SchoolUrbandale7/1/2008
Waukee High SchoolWaukee8/1/2008
William Penn UniversityOskaloosa4/1/2008
Source: These data come from NJ Advance Media, which compiled a list of all known FieldTurf Duraspine fields installed in the U.S. until about July 2011. NJ Advance Media notes its database excludes about 200 field installations nationwide because of incomplete company records.

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