Updated at 12:40 p.m. Feb. 14 with a comment from the Edmonds School District.
One possible casualty of an upcoming Edmonds City Council decision to extend a moratorium on crumb rubber infill for publicly-owned athletic fields? The long-awaited year-round playing surface for the Edmonds-Woodway High School baseball field, which is scheduled to be completely renovated in June.
For years, Warrior baseball players, coaches and fans have been dreaming of the day when the Edmonds School District would fund a new all-weather playing surface to replace the grass field, which drains poorly following rainy weather and is often left unplayable.
During the Warriors’ 2017 season, for example, EWHS — which advanced all the way to the state 3A tournament at Safeco Field — was able to play just three home games on its own field, assistant coach Will Budnick said. The rest of the games had to be moved to nearby locations with existing artificial turf surfaces — usually either at Mountlake Terrace High School or fields in the Shoreline School District
Budnick was in the meeting room when the Edmonds City Council’s Parks, Planning and Public Works Committee Tuesday night briefly discussed a proposed resolution to extend the crumb rubber moratorium from the scheduled Feb. 28, 2018 expiration date until July 15. The delay is being recommended because results of health and safety studies at the State of Calfornia and the federal government aren’t expected until June, said City Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director Carrie Hite.
But now that delay could be even longer. When Councilmember Kristiana Johnson expressed concerns that the studies may not be completed until the end of June, the committee agreed to recommend that the moratorium expiration be pushed back further — until Aug. 7.
The city council in December 2015 first approved the moratorium following months of public testimony and discussion among councilmembers about crumb rubber’s possible health and environmental impacts, with a scheduled sunset date of July 11, 2017. The council voted in April 2017 to extend that ban until Feb. 28, 2018, awaiting the results of pending federal research.
The council is likely to make a final decision during next week’s Feb. 20 council business meeting, and the possibility is worrisome for Warrior baseball, Budnick said. When voters approved the latest Edmonds School District bond measure in 2014, money was included for the new EWHS baseball field. Plans are being finalized so that construction can begin in June. Once completed, the upgrade would also expand field use by youth and adult teams year-round outside of high school baseball season.
“We’re on track to break ground in June so we can have it for March 1 (2019),” Budnick said. “They (school district officials) have told us this is our last season on this field. We’re very happy but we’re cautiously optimistic because we don’t know what this moratorium will do.”
The Edmonds School District has had ongoing discussions about the safety of crumb rubber ever since a group of parents and neighbors first raised the issue in spring 2015. That’s when citizens became aware of a plan by the school district, under an agreement with the city and the Verdant Health Commission, to tear out natural grass fields next to the former Woodway High School (now known as the Woodway Campus) and replace them with crumb rubber artificial turf as part of a three-phase sports complex.
The Edmonds School Board rejected citizens’ requests to stop using the material — stating there was a lack of research to declare it unsafe and pointing to the increased costs of alternative infills such as cork. But those same citizens also began appearing at Edmonds City Council meetings, and the city council in December 2015 first approved the moratorium following months of public testimony and discussion. The moratium was scheduled to sunset on July 11, 2017, but the council voted in April 2017 to extend that ban until Feb. 28, 2018, pending research results.
Budnick said he doesn’t know of other teams that have played on cork, but he noted that district officials have suggested to Warrior coaches that they take players to test the cork infill field at Seattle’s Cal Anderson Park “and hit some grounders and see how it plays.” According to an article in the Daily Journal of Commerce, City of Seattle Parks and Recreation is testing the cork material for “durability, safety, playability, maintenance and environmental health.”
“We know that we’re up against this field turf thing,” Budnick said, “but we also know that there’s other (options). We’ve been told to go look at the cork, and see how it plays and see if we’re OK with that. But then again, we’ve heard that cork might be approximately 30 percent more (expensive).
“We’re just excited to get a field and we’re open to whatever we have to do to make it work,” he added. “When they keep extending that date it gets a little more scary.”
Edmonds School District spokeswoman Debbie Jakala said that pricing for multiple types of infill “is always part” of the district’s field selection process. “The Edmonds-Woodway baseball field project design is no different and includes a cork infill option, as well as the SBR, “crumb” rubber infill option,” she said.
The district’s current timeline is to replace the field during the summer 2018, she added.
— By Teresa Wippel