With field turf fibers breaking down after only six years of use, the Heber Springs Board of Education needed make a decision on what to do with the playing surface at Panther Stadium moving forward.
(In a recent article pertaining to the new field turf, some of the numbers and facts were inaccurate. In the following article, Heber Springs Superintendent Russell Hester and Principal Justin Johnson explain the need for the new turf. The Sun-Times strives for accuracy.) With field turf fibers breaking down after only six years of use, the Heber Springs Board of Education needed make a decision on what to do with the playing surface at Panther Stadium moving forward. In a school board meeting on Feb. 11, Athletic Director Steve Janski stated that the field turf had failed and tabled two options for the board to consider. The first option was to replace the turf with the same materials free of charge with a two-year warranty. The second option was to install a new upgraded material for a cost of $175, 000 with a full eight-year warranty. A discussion followed and the board voted it would be in the school's best interest to upgrade in order to save money in the long run. Superintendent Russell Hester said Janski had mentioned the field breaking down four years ago. The school called in a turf specialist to try and repair the turf. “Usually you can see some fibers coming out, but they were just coming up by the thousands,” emphasized Hester. “We had a company come down here and they said you need to get this machine and refurbish it. We hired a guy out of Cabot that owns one of those big buffing machines. The guy came up and made one strip across the south end zone and it just filled his machine up with fibers. He said, 'I can't do that. This carpet is ruined,' added Hester. Heber then decided to call the field turf company to test the surface's materials. “The company came down, tested and decided ours was one of several around the country out of this same batch of bad materials,” said Hester. “So the parent company got with the people that made the fibers, made the under laying and made the stitching and all that, and they got to suing each other about whose fault is was. They came back to us and said, 'Hey your carpet is no good and we will replace it. And here is what we will do.' The first option of replacing the turf with the same materials with a two-year warranty didn't make sense in the long run, said Heber High School Principal Justin Johnson. “Basically they are telling you they are going to put faulty turf back down to honor the two-year warranty,” said Johnson. “The biggest thing for people to understand is this was driven by being fiscally responsible and safety. We had a safety issue with the track and the holes that were in it that had been patched. Then you have the safety issue of the field along with the financial decision of extending that warranty for eight years and protecting our assets.” Hester said it would have been cheap in the short term to go with the failing materials, however the school will be saving up to $600,000 if the same surface broke down again. “After four years if the turf breaks down again then we are out $600,000 to replace it,” said Hester. “They said the materials have gotten better and the technology has gotten better in how they put the fibers in the mat and this is a better system. So they said we are going to give you the new upgraded system and the eight-year warranty back, but it's going to cost $175,000. Our board got to thinking that's really a better deal.” Although the new turf is lined for soccer, Hester and Johnson said a new program is not in the plans ¬ at least not in the next two years. “With soccer being one of the fastest growing sports as far as young kids, it made logical sense to go ahead and be prepared,” said Johnson. “There are no plans whatsoever right now as far as adding soccer, but you don't want to turnaround and come back and not have the facilities. Looking into the future if soccer does come about we are ready to go with it,” added Johnson. “We are not going to start soccer but it was a whole lot cheaper to go ahead and put the lines down now than come back three years later and have to cut the green and glue the reds and whites back in,” added Hester. Heber is also in the beginning stages of replacing its 20-year old track for a cost of $200,000. “Another thing that came up in discussion was we didn't want to put the track down and then come in here two or four years later and put a new field in and basically tear the track up,” said Johnson. “When they run across the track with that heavy machinery it tears up the track in that area.” Drainage for the new track is an issue with water seeping under the surface in some spots. “We wanted to get the turf done first and we got that done,” said Hester. “Now we are going to go in front of the home football bleachers and tear the fence down in front of the home bleachers. They are going to catch all the water that comes off the home football bleachers and drain it all the way around in front of the field house. So we needed to do the turf first, then the drainage and the track last.” The old turf is free to whoever wants to pick it up. It's found next to the school's entrance. “Anybody who wants it can have it,” said Hester. “The Parks and Rec. are on it. They are going to put it in there batting cages and the Red Apple Inn wanted it. Another guy got a trailer full and headed up the mountain. We've told everybody if they want it, it's there's,” added Hester.