ELKO — In an effort to save money, the City Council voted Tuesday to redesign the first phase of the sports complex to have natural, instead of synthetic, turf.
The Parks & Recreation Advisory Board had been in favor of sticking with the synthetic surface as designed.
“The big elephant in the room, from my standpoint, is the upfront cost of construction of synthetic and the end of life cost of synthetic (turf),” said Parks & Recreation Director James Wiley.
He was also concerned about how the City would pay for lighting that would cost around $750,000. Wiley said some donations the City anticipated to cover lighting are now expected to come in lower. Going with natural turf, which costs an estimated $800,000 less, would allow the City to use that money for lighting.
Not only is a synthetic surface more expensive up front, it would require replacement around 10 years, Wiley said. The estimated cost to the City would be about $1 million for both softball fields.
Danny Story, representing the advisory board and Elko Adult Softball, said the City would likely save a half million dollars in maintenance costs by going with a synthetic surface.
“I honestly feel this is our chance to get this right,” Story said.
Synthetic turf also reduces the number of injuries, he said. Furthermore, the synthetic turf drains faster after rainfall, creating almost zero downtime for play. Combined with needing less water and maintenance, Story believed it was the better choice.
“I don’t think saving the money right now is really going to save the City money in the long run,” Story said.
Wiley disagreed. Synthetic turf also requires maintenance such as disinfecting, washing and cleaning. Because the surface gets hot, it also needs to be cooled with water. Furthermore, the City would have to anticipate potential vandalism and the different methods required to dispose of bodily fluids and pet waste.
In a 20-year time period, Wiley said the maintenance costs for natural and synthetic are comparable.
“The best-case scenario, I think, is a wash,” he said.
Daily maintenance of natural turf would cost the City less than $100,000 a year. City Manager Curtis Calder said with a synthetic surface, the City would have to save $100,000 a year to replace it in a decade, and this may require raising players fees.
Several council members asked about the possibility of a flood, and if a synthetic or a natural surface would fare better in those conditions. Wiley said silt on the synthetic surface could affect the drainage system, but there would be consequences either way.
It was believed that the synthetic turf could also be watered via pipes from the wastewater treatment facility.
Jessica Pescio from Elko Adult Softball also spoke in favor of synthetic turf.
“I think it would draw more people to the area to have artificial turf,” she said.
Councilwoman Mandy Simons, however, was concerned about the cost of replacement.
“I really don’t feel we can recoup that in the players fees,” she said.
Resident Gil Hernandez said lighting should have been considered earlier on because it is important to have on the new sports complex.
Two councilmen, John Patrick Rice and Robert Schmidtlein, were absent from the proceedings. The motion to redesign the fields to natural turf passed unanimously.
“From a financial model, it is pretty tough to justify the additional costs,” said Mayor Chris Johnson.
The redesign to natural turf will cost $10,900. The City intends to go to bid on the project at the beginning of next year. It has already borrowed money for the first phase of the new sports complex as part of an $8 million bond.
Story later told the Free Press that Council made the decision based on numbers that were not factual, but guesses.
“Council should have tabled it to gather more hard numbers that all the Council members should have reviewed,” he said.