SPECIAL REPORT: school districts consider the worth of turf

Lodi football field plan.jpeg
After more than a decade of issues, the School District of Lodi wants to install artificial turf on its high school field.

David Puls has a very unique way of describing Lodi Stadium where he coaches football each fall.

“If you had a nice gift wrap on a brick, and it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, this is an awesome looking gift.’ And then you open it and it's just a brick. That's what it is,” Puls said. “Surface wise, it looks good in August. Middle of September, it's like, this isn't so good. Middle of October, it's like, can we even play on this from day to day?”

Puls says the field has been in rough – and sometimes unsafe – shape for at least a decade. The teams that play on the field have had to move homecoming games, reschedule soccer tournaments, and postpone senior nights because the ground was either too soft or too hard.

Puls says his players have sustained unnecessary muscle strains, broken bones, and ACL tears because the grass wasn’t up to par. Puls says he’d prefer to have real grass, but the district doesn’t have the staff or the budget to maintain it to a level where he’s confident it would be safe.

“We need to have a consistent surface that it's ready to go all of the time and we can get all of our youth and all of our community people have access to it,” Puls said.

After years of it being on the budget backburner, Lodi High School Principal Vince Breunig started doing some research.

“All of the studies that I've looked at, any consistent playing surface is better than the inconsistent playing surface we have right now,” Breunig explained.

With that, Breunig set out to convince the school board and the community that installing an artificial turf field was a good investment. The cost, the district estimates, will be about $1.3 million.

“Is it as high of a priority as our academics? No. Absolutely, academics come first. But it's something that our kids work really hard and we want to make sure they can be seen here and our own community,” Breunig said.

Breunig says the condition of the field makes students nervous to play on it. He adds those involved in athletics or marching band are stressed in class about whether they’ll have to travel for a game they were scheduled to play at home. Breunig points out that can cut into homework time and take away from the pride those students feel being part of those organizations.

“If we're putting money into turf or money into facilities so they have a place to play if they want to play. That sends a strong message. If we're not willing to do that, that sends an equally strong message.”

Lodi is far from the first school to consider putting in artificial turf. Some of their frequent opponents – like Waunakee, Middleton, and McFarland – already have it. Other schools like Monona Grove are also looking to secure funding for turf in its stadium.

“It's a trend that's happening and it's going to continue to happen more and more,” Puls noted.

Karla Faust has seen what kind of impact the field can have.

“As a parent watching this, I was safety conscious. I don't want my son hurt. I don't want your daughter hurt. Let's keep this an equal playing field,” Faust said.

That mission in mind, Faust is one of many community members who have contributed to the stadium redevelopment project. Those donations have already totaled about $250,000. That will be added to the $500,000 the school board has already committed to the project.

For Faust, it’s not just about the safety of the kids playing on the field. As a business leader, she sees a new turf field and other improvements as a marketing tool. Every time an event is rescheduled or moved to another community, Faust says that’s money not being spent at Lodi’s restaurants and businesses.

Additionally, Faust says families looking to move are always considering the schools, and an updated stadium could be another selling point.

“This is the face of our community. This is where people come from out of town and get to see us,” Faust said.

Puls suggests despite the cost upfront, maintaining real grass would be more expensive in the long run.

The district is in the process of receiving bids for the project and hopes to start renovations on the stadium by this summer.

Faust says the district shouldn’t keep delaying the fix.

“I do understand that, ‘what else can we put the money to?’” Faust said. “But why continue to put a Band-Aid on a problem? Why not get together and solve the problem?”

If you’re interested in learning more about Lodi’s stadium project or want to donate to the effort, click here.