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District 5 unanimously approved a bid by SprinTurf, a Daniel Island-based company, for $3million to bring synthetic turf to the fields. The motion included the construction of bullpens, batting cages and two multi-sport complexes.
The baseball and softball coaches at T.L. Hanna and Westside high schools will have a little more down time this year, and upcoming years, because of major construction projects at both high schools. Gone are the traditional freshly cut grass, dirt-dragged infields and fresh ground-chalk foul lines. This spring, the baseball and softball fields will look like each schools' respective football fields and be all synthetic turf. Base paths and pitcher's mound included. Those changes mean the daily upkeep that grass baseball and softball fields require is no longer needed. First-year Westside coach Jarrod Payne said that prospect was a factor in his taking the job.
"It gives me a chance to focus on my family a little more. This much square footage, the mowing, the edging, the dragging, especially if you are the only one doing it, it can take a solid hour and a half, two hours a day," he said.
"(Having turf) does give us the opportunity to focus more on coaching and do what I need to do at home. It saves a lot of time."
The changes also mean the district saves money on costs associated with a baseball or softball field, such as gas to run the mower, upkeep on the mower, dirt, chalk or paint to line the field and water for the grass.
District 5 unanimously approved a bid by SprinTurf, a Daniel Island-based company, for $3 million to bring synthetic turf to the fields. The motion included the construction of bullpens, batting cages and two multi-sport complexes.
"We have a construction budget of $3 million for four fields at the two high schools," said Wess Grant, District 5 assistant superintendent of operational services. "We have a construction budget of $7 million for the two multi-sport complexes."
The projects are paid for with funds from the county-wide penny sales tax, an initiative approved by voters in 2014.
District 5 superintendent Tom Wilson said the change is a "long-term investment."
"The big cost is the first time putting it down. It is a 10-year warranty, and in 10 years when you have to replace it, it is like replacing the carpet in your house," he said. "The ground work is already done; that is where all the cost is.
"Putting a drainage system in, putting the rock in and getting the base ready. So when you come back 10 years, the cost is not nearly as high as it is now."
Grant said the hope is in 10 years the district would bundle replacement costs for the baseball, softball and football fields, which would save money. Those 10 years are also the time estimated it will take to break even on the investment.
"We did analysis on the football fields, and it was about 10 years. Looking at all the work you have to do on the baseball and softball field, we may get the return on investment sooner," Grant said. "The moment you get there, the replacement is phenomenally cheaper."
Wilson said there were multiple benefits to turfing the fields
"In the long run, it is more economical and maintenance-free," Wilson said. "Another big reason is we can play ball when it is raining, unless it is lightning."
Grant said there are safety benefits for the players as well.
"With synthetic, you can change the infield so an athlete can feel the difference in the texture of the ground as they approach the fence or warning track," he said.
Wilson said the district met with other schools that use turf fields, including the University of Louisville, North Greenville University and Anderson University.
"Between (North Greenville) and Louisville, we looked at them and made some design changes. Their mounds are dirt, but the Louisville coach recommended go to turf. There are issues with the dirt getting in the turf," he said. "We are excited to be the first high schools in the state with turf baseball and softball fields."
The board started looking into turf fields last year and the project was approved unanimously by the board during the March 20, 2017, meeting.
The Rams' Payne said not many high schools have what Westside and Hanna will have this season.
"When I was in high school, we had a team in our conference that had turf, so I have played on it, but I have not coached a team on it," he said. "There has always been potential at Westside. The fact the district takes it seriously, the fact there is so much pride in the area. It was an instant draw."
At Hanna, the field is being moved up a few feet, to allow for seating behind the plate and to create more room between the field and the concessions stand. Hanna also is building a brick wall for a backstop, coach Daniel Crenshaw said.
"It was real tight in front of the concessions stand," Crenshaw said. "We would have fans sit down the third base line, but that has (area) been turned into bullpens."
Because of the changes at Hanna, the project at Westside is ahead. The full project is expected to be completed by mid-to-late November.
"I'm real excited to see what it will look like when they are done," Crenshaw said.
Adjustments will be needed when playing on the synthetic field, players and coaches say.
"The ball may skid and go a little quicker in the outfield and the gaps," Crenshaw said. "There won't be any bad bounces on grounders in the infield."
With a turf surface, the dibits and uneven areas of ground are eliminated with the flatter surface.
Regan Reid, a Hanna infielder who has committed to Clemson, said he is looking forward to playing on the new surface. He has played on a similar surface during midseason tournaments with Hanna and with his travel team.
"I like it a lot," he said. "As an infielder, you don't get any bad hops."
"It is going to play faster, so we won't have to take near as deep an angle because the grass is not going to kill (the ball's momentum). You are going to have to get straight to it, and it is going to be coming at you hot."
Jordan Young, a senior outfielder for Westside, said he has some experience playing on the surface as well from his travel league.
"It is cool to have it at your home," he said. "The ball moves a little faster and the ground balls bounce a little more.
"Everyone on the team is ready to play on it."
Young said he had a strong first impression of the new field.
"It is pretty beautiful," he said. "It has always been a nice stadium, but getting the turf has made it really nice."
Crenshaw said while at times he will miss tending the field the new field - "coming out here before doubleheaders and after school dragging the field and making the place look nice," he said - the new field will give him more time to focus on coaching and being with his players.
"It will definitely be a lot less work on my end," he said. "It will save us a good 20 to 30 minutes after practice."
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