COAL CITY — Coal City's high school football field won’t be sporting artificial turf next season, but Unit 1 officials still found a way to dress up the facility.
Well, top dress, that is.
One month after turning down the artificial turf option, Coal City Unit School District 1 gained its footing Monday with regards to providing a quality surface for its football field at a reasonable cost. Board members gave their verbal consent for district officials to revive the field surface using a process called “top dressing.”
Top dressing is a process that involves a machine moving across the field, spreading dirt in the low spots and dropping a small layer of top soil across the top. The process then involves reseeding and fertilizing over the soil.
“It smooths the fields out,” Superintendent Dr. Kent Bugg said, “and it helps us maintain the crown on the field after we get on the program of doing this for two or three years.”
A significant advantage, as Bugg noted, is that this process will prevent the district from having to resod and recrown the football field in the future. It has been more than 10 years since the district has resodded and recrowned its field, Bugg said.
“It was due, but that would have cost about $70,000 to get done,” Bugg said.
John Cullick, Coal City’s fields and grounds director, and Dan Hutchings, athletic director, investigated some of the options available to the district. They were informed the district could avoid resodding and recrowning the field if it were to undergo the top dressing process annually.
Instead of the $70,000 cost to resod and recrown, top dressing would cost approximately $15,000 the first year, including $9,000 for the top dressing process alone. As part of that first-year cost, the district was advised to first put in a synthetic, clay-like product called DuraPlay, which would cost $6,000.
“After that, we would be looking a recurring cost of about $9,000 a year to top dress, which means you can do a lot of top dressing for the cost of having to resod and recrown the football field,” Bugg said.
“The advantage for the district in this process is we can maintain our current field, which we’ve always had an excellent playing surface here,“ Bugg added. “Secondly, we don’t have a big up-front cost, and this $9,000 a year is something we can budget and plan for. It’s really going to have very, very little impact on our taxpayers.”
Bugg said an extremely wet fall, an abundance of home games and limited practice space due to construction of the high school addition all played roles in causing the field to suffer more wear and tear than a typical season. As a result, the field is in need of more maintenance than usual.
“In talking to Mr. Cullick and Mr. Hutchings, they believe this is the way to go,” Bugg said. “We can get it out of this year’s budget to get that done. We would have to go into contingency a little bit to do it, but my recommendation would be that we move forward with this part of the project.”
“Do whatever you’ve got to do to get it done,” Board President Shawn Hamilton responded during the meeting. “Put us on the schedule.”
Last month, the board declined to pursue a community-generated idea to install artificial turf on the football field. The primary reason, Bugg said, was due to the significant price tag for installation, which amounted to about $600,000.
Along with the cost of installation, the district would also face the likelihood in eight years of having to pay about $325,000 to replace the turf.
“The board was very clear about the fact that they thought it was a good idea, and the community could have gotten a lot of use out of it,“ Bugg said. “The problem was cost, especially in this economy. The real issue was the board didn’t feel like it was the right time in this economy to add that cost.”
At that time, the board then instructed Bugg to investigate the best method to prepare the high school football field and the practice fields for the upcoming season.
“We need to do everything we can to make sure the football field is up to the standards that our community expects,” Bugg said. “The board asked me to go out and see what we needed to do, what type of program we needed to get on, to give us the best chance of having the best possible playing surface on the football field.”
In addition to the football field, Bugg noted the practice fields are scheduled to be completely resurfaced. Dirt from the construction of the new addition will be spread and graded over the practice fields. They will then be newly seeded.
“Those practice fields were never graded properly, and they were wet all the time,” Bugg said. “This will allow the practice field to drain to the detention pond, and it will allow them to drain to keep them dry.”
The practice fields are planned to be completed by August for the beginning of football practices. The high school football field is scheduled to be completed by the first home football game.
“We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that happens,” Bugg said. “The only thing we can’t control is the weather.”