Illustration by Kelsey Hill.
Illustration by Kelsey Hill.

UC Santa Cruz athletic director Cliff Dochterman has a project in the works to replace the grass on the field with AstroTurf, which would eliminate the potential for future long-term closures.

The Office of Physical Education, Recreation and Sports (OPERS) upper field was closed from Sept. 2, 2014 to March 30, 2015 because of improper irrigation efforts that occurred when the city of Santa Cruz declared a Stage Three Drought Emergency. The field used 7.7 million gallons of water last year, but that number was reduced to 5.6 million gallons a year due to the drought.

“It is something that would help us save on water and operating expenses,” Dochterman said. “Our students can still play on turf when in the past it would’ve turned into a muddy mess when it rained.”

In 2015, UCSC will spend $12,587 on field improvements like patching holes made by squirrels. The squirrels try to live under the field and UCSC invests a lot of time and money getting rid of them — an issue that would be eliminated with the implementation of AstroTurf.

“Research has shown that there are pros and cons to the environmental sustainability of replacing grass with plastic-based turf,” said Elida Erickson, the sustainability programs manager and interim director at the UCSC Sustainability Office. “But given the current state of water shortage in California, the environmental benefits of this change — particularly in regards to conserving local water resources — would be immense.”

UCSC’s Physical Planning and Construction, a unit within the division of Business Administration Services, estimated a cost of $9 million to replace the upper field with AstroTurf in a July 21 projection. However, a meeting between Dochterman, contractors and private supporters left Dochterman uncertain about the cost. The projection could possibly be a $3-4 million overestimate.

“That number changes constantly,” Dochterman said. “We are still working on getting a more accurate figure.”

The funds for the project would come from private donors who Dochterman has been negotiating with. The amount UCSC will pay hasn’t been determined. Ideally, the donors would cover most, if not all of the cost. The names of these supporters will not be released until the project is finalized.

Kevin “Skippy” Givens, UCSC’s competitive sports supervisor, agrees that AstroTurf is the best solution to the needs of the campus.

“Turf will be able to take more wear and tear than what we currently have,” Givens said. “It could also be used when it is wet. We are currently very frugal with making the fields available when they’re wet. So this addition to our campus would equate to more use by [intramural] and sports clubs.”

There are currently 48 competitive and noncompetitive sports clubs officially affiliated with UCSC, which is more than any other UC. Many of these teams were affected by the closure of the field last year and were forced to remote fields on and off campus in order to practice. UCSC also offers 16 intramural sports throughout the year.

“This whole project is 90 percent [for] intramurals and sports clubs rather than NCAA,” Dochterman said. “Unfortunately up until now, a lot of people haven’t been aware of a lot of things taking place with club sports and intramurals, and they are one of my big priorities. We’ve got some great teams out there and they deserve to have great facilities.”

The field would be lined in three different colors for the competitive club sports that use the field most often — soccer, lacrosse and rugby.

“A turf field will give us a secure place to practice and will bring more support to club sports,” said Tristan Bodmer, central defender for the UCSC men’s club soccer team. “We wouldn’t have to go through the hassle of rescheduling and forfeiting games due to field closures like the many that have happened in the past.”

Dochterman said he hasn’t faced any opposition to the project thus far. All capital improvement projects costing more than $35,000 require approval from the campus provost and executive vice chancellor, or from the chancellor as appropriate.

“Whenever you build something on campus there are multiple levels of approval,” Dochterman said. “We are very cognizant of the environment so we are extra cautious, but in theory we will be able to break ground some time next spring.”