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An Accord in the Turf Wars?

The Synthetic Turf Council is born

Ron VanGelderen remembers it all too well, even though nearly 15 years have elapsed. VanGelderen, the longtime president of the Dalton, Ga.-based Carpet and Rug Institute, had helped gather all of the manufacturers of synthetic turf with the express purpose of producing a document that could, in VanGelderen's words, "bring some rhyme or reason to the marketplace." The plan was to gather statistics on sales and generally build a foundation of trust so that the various special interests could put their differences aside for the good of the industry. If you've been paying attention as lawsuits have met with countersuits over the past decade, then you know that the plan failed.

"There was so much turmoil between the parties that we were never able to put it together," VanGelderen says.

But the dream lives. Pulled out of retirement, VanGelderen says, by a synthetic-turf manufacturer still hoping to see a united, positive industry in which the end user can trust, VanGelderen has a new title, president of the Synthetic Turf Council. The group has just issued a comprehensive document, "Guidelines for the Essential Elements of Synthetic Turf System Specifications," which provides facility owners and architects "reliable tools so that synthetic-turf systems will perform as expected in keeping with their declared use." Included are descriptions of turf systems currently available and their proper installation and maintenance, as well as such characteristics as traction and rotational resistance, slip resistance, surface abrasiveness, impact absorption and surface stability. The document offers tips on how to evaluate appearance, how to ensure quality control, how to obtain adequate warranty coverage and how to be sure of a manufacturer's qualifications.

The document's writers are an impressive bunch, including representatives of two widely respected independent organizations: the United States Sports Surfacing Laboratory in Hopewell, Va., and Northwest Laboratories in Seattle. The group also boasts several landscape architects with extensive experience in specifying synthetic turf, including John Butz of Abel Bainnson Butz in New York and Bruce Lemons of Foresite Design in Detroit.

What it doesn't include, though - aside from the STC's silent partner, who VanGelderen won't name - is turf manufacturers. "I've been around them long enough to know what will happen," he says. But the group is planning to circulate the guidelines among manufacturers, suppliers, fiber producers and other interested parties to get their input. VanGelderen says it was necessary to exclude manufacturers to produce an unbiased document, but adds that everyone will be welcome to suggest additions, subtractions or amplifications. "This is a set of guidelines created totally without political influence," VanGelderen says. "I've been absolutely delighted with the process and the end result."

Further information about the guidelines will be available sometime this month at a new web site, www.syntheticturfcouncil.org.

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