Mehlville School District officials are considering options for safeguarding the new turf installed this summer at Mehlville High School after some residents abused the new surface the first few weeks after work was completed.
The Board of Education unanimously voted in February to replace the turf at both Mehlville and Oakville high schools, MHS this summer and OHS next summer, at a cost of $1.05 million, the lowest bid submitted. The vote was 6-0, with board member Lisa Dorsey absent.
Then-board member Venki Palamand noted that since turf was first installed in the district in 2007, other districts like Rockwood have followed Mehlville’s lead.
“We wound up saving money, and injuries went down too,” Palamand said. “On a synthetic field, you had far less injuries that students had to endure.”
At the time the district originally switched to turf, it was spending $100,000 a year in maintenance on the grass fields and extra transportation costs to move students to off-site fields.
That equates to roughly the same cost as turf spread out over a decade, or less if it lasts longer.
District officials initially said the new fields should last longer than the originals because the district has a maintenance agreement that should keep the fields in better shape.
However, since the turf at Mehlville High was finished a few weeks ago, grounds crews have found damage from people who apparently are jumping the fence to the football field at night and using the new turf in ways that could impact its lifespan.
Groundskeepers have found holes from people who drove stakes into the turf to hold soccer goals, along with chewed-up gum and sunflower seeds strewn all over the field just before the football team needs the field for its season.
The misuse of the turf called to mind the earliest days of the Oakville High School turf, when a vandal set a section of the field on fire in 2009 or 2010, Palamand recalled.
“I can’t believe somebody drove stakes in it,” Superintendent Chris Gaines said. “Do you not know this is not dirt?”
Gates to the field are locked at 8:30 p.m., but the trespassers are coming in anyway, he said.
The superintendent is discussing options to deal with the problem with MHS Principal Denise Swanger and MHS Athletics Director Tim Champion.
Cameras would not help since the vandalism is happening at night, Gaines said.
But the district is considering adding more security gates or security guards, he said.
Champion came out to the athletic field one night after reports of a disturbance and asked people what they were doing on the field, only to have them reply that they had a permit.
Pressed who issued the permit, the reply was that it came from Champion himself.
“‘Well, I’m Tim Champion, and I didn’t give you a permit,'” Gaines quoted Champion as replying.
The problem is not that people are using the field, but that they’re abusing the brand-new surface, Gaines said.
“We just want people to take care of it so it’ll last longer,” he said.
Individuals can go on the track and the field when they want.
For organized groups, however, the district wants them to rent the field.