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Landfill Reprieve: New Life for Tired Turf
November 2011

Project Spotlight: Gunston Community Center
Location: Arlington County, Virginia
Client: Arlington County Department of Parks, Recreation & Cultural Resources
Landscape Architect: Gordon Landscape Architecture

Today a lot of jurisdictions and school districts of all sizes have at least one synthetic turf field if not more, with many of these fields coming to the end of their lifespan. In the days where going green is the norm, the question is raised, what will happen to the existing turf and infill when it is time to be replaced?

When the Department of Parks Recreation, and Cultural Resources in Arlington County, Virginia, presented Gordon Landscape Architecture (Gordon) with a new project, the turf replacement at Gunston Community Center, they asked this very question. But, more importantly, they asked how we could keep this aged turf field from going into our landfills. Gordon was asked to develop an innovative approach to managing the removal of the existing turf and to provide a green alternative to the standard demolition practices.

The synthetic turf field at Gunston Community Center was the County’s first synthetic field and quickly became the most intensely used field. In 2010, after eight years of use, the County made the decision that it was time to replace the worn out turf for the Spring 2011 playing season. Arlington County has an established track record of being progressive in their project development and they didn’t want Gunston to be an exception. The County wanted to be as sustainable as possible with the removal of the old field.

Gordon researched and examined a number of companies across the spectrum to not only find the best and most state-of-the-art turf options for the County, but to find a willing partner that would be dedicated to providing the eco-friendly solution required. A Special Procedures Waste Management specification was written to include the requirement to “Recycle and/or salvage a minimum of 90% of non-hazardous construction and demolition material.” After lead content testing proved to be negative, this non-nylon product qualified to be 100% recycled.

Prior to bidding, two turf companies were selected for the quality and type of turf they would provide, along with their ability to meet this unique specification. Arlington County knew there would be an upcharge for including this sustainable requirement in the specifications, but they also knew it was the right thing to do for the environment. Although the turf could have been recycled, the cost (because of its newness-unknown by the turf companies prior to bidding) associated with doing so was much higher than anticipated. In order to maintain the budget, the alternative selected by the winning turf company, as described in the project specifications, was to re-use the existing turf elsewhere.

The winning synthetic turf company, FieldTurf, was just as enthusiastic as Arlington County about providing a responsible way of dealing with what will soon be a fast growing issue. They found a business in the region who would be able to re-use the old turf field. There were also several local sports leagues interested in using the turf for upgrades to their batting cages, bullpens, etc. For ease of re-installation, the old turf was rolled up, infill and all, and loaded on trucks to be later rolled out at a paintball facility’s combat yard. Additionally, the old turf system had holes in the carpet backing allowing dirt and infill to migrate into the choker layer below. A thin layer of this material was removed and provided to the local stone quarry for re-use as road base.

Coincidentally, the removal of the existing turf occurred in the winter months. This appears to be the ideal situation for removal of the old turf. The heavy machinery required to pick up entire rolls of turf with infill can be an issue if the ground is extremely soggy, such as during the spring rainy season. Deep tire ruts could not only pull apart underdrainage connections allowing for future clogging, but also create future settling of the base after re-compaction of the top choker layer. With the ground frozen much of the winter, there is much less disruption and subsequent repair of the existing gravel sub-base.

Since this project was likely the first of its kind on the East Coast, there was no way of knowing at the onset how this process would end, but the success of this project has resulted in Arlington County being contacted by other venues looking for more turf. This process certainly possesses merit and has the potential to become a standard for all turf companies as alternative uses for aging synthetic turf becomes more common. As other sport venues and clients become aware of the possibilities for turf reuse, the demand and implementation of greener solutions in the synthetic turf industry will soon start becoming a reality.

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