By Joseph Garcia
While there is still much to be done toward the completion of the new Liberty Hill High School and its sports complex, local sports fans — and taxpayers, for that matter — should be excited about the installation of synthetic turf on the athletic fields.
Construction at the 96-acre site west of Liberty Hill on State Highway 29 is changing the rural landscape of the community. With facilities scheduled to open to students this summer, the football, baseball, softball and practice/soccer fields are already bright green awaiting their athletes.
Hellas Sports Construction, a leader in the sports construction industry, specifically with regard to synthetic turf – named Matrix® Turf – will complete its portion of the athletic fields by the end of the month as part of a new $61.57 million high school and athletic complex. Funding for the project was approved by voters in 2010. Hellas is an Austin-based company with offices in San Diego, Seattle and New Jersey.
President and CEO Reed Seaton, a former high school football player, is a Kansas native who moved to Texas in 1979 to build sports facilities. He said that the Liberty Hill project is one that is dear and personally important to him and his partner of 29 years, VP of Track Operations Bob Allison.
“Hellas is based right down the road in North Austin, our manufacturing shop is up the road off 200 (3511 CR 200 in Liberty Hill), so this project is pretty special to us,” said Seaton. “It’s kind of our backyard and kind of a showpiece…so we are happy to be a part of it and I think that Dr. (Superintendent Rob) Hart’s got a good vision here. I think Huckabee (the district’s architectural firm) did a great design.”
A few notable projects where Hellas has installed Matrix Turf include Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, the University of California Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Calif., Baylor University’s Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco, The Alamodome in San Antonio, the University of Texas at El Paso’s Sun Bowl Stadium and the brand new Eagle Stadium in Allen.
The Matrix 46 System, installed on all the new Liberty Hill athletic fields, has a life cycle in excess of 10-12 years. The practice fields should be around eight to 10 years and the football field has a life cycle of seven to 10 years, depending on usage. The field has millions of scattered little rubber fibers that are essential to the Matrix Turf surface.
“The Matrix fibers, because of where we live, they are more UV stable,” Seaton explained. “There are two fibers, two shapes that are twisted together in each little tuft. One fiber is lazier than the other fiber and it’s going to want to lay down earlier than the bigger fiber, so it kind of starts to hold the rubber in place so we don’t have so much rubber splashing around. We have lighter fibers predominantly to make the field naturally cooler.”
Seaton said 65 to 70 percent of its total annual revenue ($100 million) comes from Texas, on predominantly projects such as the one in Liberty Hill.
These days the number of artificial grass field installations is surpassing natural grass fields, especially in Texas. Installing the Matrix Turf at the new Liberty Hill athletic facilities will cut down on costs and reduce time of the fields’ maintenance. The turf can endure even the worst weather conditions, while maintaining the look and feel of real grass. The turf’s safety is also a huge positive.
“I would say in the last seven or eight years most every school district that has a fund balance…or they have a really bad field, they are migrating quickly to artificial turf,” Seaton said. “What’s driving the synthetic turf industry, a lot of it is the density of population and it is the lack of water and it’s the safety issue. By building good, safe fields we are able to reduce the concussions. There is a great awareness of concussions today and we’re saving hundreds of millions of gallons of water. These fields use no water.”
The comparisons are night and day with the money Liberty Hill taxpayers are dishing out to water the old athletic fields annually.
LHISD Director of Maintenance and Facilities Andy Pogue said the district is currently spending $7,671 on field preparations and labor, $12,853 on supplies, $6,000 for field maintenance, $4,299 on electricity for the wells, while using 5,437,120 gallons of water. The total cost to maintain all of the current LHISD athletic fields is $30,823.
Those numbers will change.
Maintenance of the synthetic turf fields is simple as it only takes one worker to use the Clean Sweep™ machine, which can be compared to the Zamboni, used for ice maintenance at hockey games. The Clean Sweep brush simply runs across the top layer of the turf and sweeps up loose rubber and debris.
“Really, the school just has to drive around and literally sweep it like you would carpet,” Seaton said. “And other than that, any other maintenance repairs are covered in the warranty by Hellas.”
So what did the installation of the new synthetic turf encompass?
Construction of the artificial turf field began by building a draining system, typically consisting of a liner, a series of pipes and six to eight inches of free draining stone. This system is surrounded by a concrete edging, which serves as the attachment point for the actual turf.
The free-draining stone is crucial to constructing a top-notch artificial turf field such as Liberty Hill’s. The stone must allow for a high degree of water migration and still exhibit excellent stability, which allows the field to drain readily and still be durable and hold planarity throughout its life, per the Hellas Sports Construction website.
There are many benefits for LHISD’s decision to go with Hellas’ turf and they do not all have to do with money or its cutting-edge technology. After all, they did it for the kids.
“We can pack a lot more kids and new kids out here on these facilities every day and the coaches, trainers, administrators and parents know that there are no gopher holes and that the fields aren’t hard and they don’t have to worry about the kids getting hurt,” Seaton said. “The band gets to be here. The drill team gets to be out here. Nobody is excluded.
“So you can have more areas to play, safer areas to play and predictable places to play. I think the uniqueness of artificial turf that I think people have to get comfortable with is that it provides a uniform, predictable, safe place to play every day. And from a coach’s standpoint in baseball or softball, there are no rainouts. As long as there is not lightning in the area, you get to play ball,” he said.
Liberty Hill taxpayers who have not seen the fields will likely be beyond satisfied with the sleek, clean, aesthetically pleasing field that dons a big “LH” in the center. Seaton said that it is personally important to him that people in Liberty Hill are pleased and can beam with pride about the upgraded and modern facilities.
“Remember, we are serving a large base of taxpayers and everybody gets to touch the field who is contributing to pay for it,” he said. “I would hope that when the taxpayers are exposed to the grand opening that they are very proud that their dollars were put to good use wisely. Being a local company, we provided a very competitive bid. So, it’s a very special job and we’re really happy to be a part of the community and it’s important to us.”
It won’t be long now until the construction is finished. But as for Hellas’ portion of the work, the football field and track are 100 percent complete, the practice fields are 100 percent complete and they are working in conjunction with the fencing company to touch up the baseball and softball fields.
Like a proud father, Seaton gleamed and looked around at the beautiful athletic fields that the Panthers will soon call home. He is delighted and honored to have been a part of Liberty Hill’s athletic future, but with Hellas’ expeditious work, he and the crew will be moving on to the next site in Canyon.
“We are packing up and heading out,” Seaton said. “We’re 99 percent done. We’re ready to play football right now.”