MIDDLEBURY — One Middlebury institution’s trash may prove to be another facility’s treasure.
Actually, trash is probably too strong a word for the decade-old artificial turf of Middlebury College’s Kohn Field, home of the successful Panther field hockey and women’s lacrosse teams.
But Middlebury College Athletic Director Erin Quinn said the time had come to replace the surface after years of heavy use; exposure to the elements, particularly ultra-violet rays; and damage from spring snow-plowing needed to keep the surface clear.
“We were using it for a high-performance, game and practice turf, so it was no longer a viable option for us,” Quinn said.
Typically, he said, a Georgia company takes turf fields in similar conditions, cuts them up, and repackages them for miniature golf courses and batting cages.
Friends of Middlebury Hockey President Rick Marshall said organization member and college project manager Mark Gleason had a better idea this past winter when he heard the turf would be replaced.
“He put a little bug in our ear,” Marshall said.
About a quarter of Vermont’s rinks, including those in Essex and Rutland, carpet their surfaces with artificial turf during the warm-weather months, Marshall said. Doing that brings in more rent for the rinks and creates a better place for recreation for their host communities.
It didn’t take too long after Gleason tipped off Friends of Middlebury Hockey (FMH) for the group and Middlebury College officials to talk. The college soon agreed to donate as much of the turf as FMH wanted to Middlebury’s Memorial Sports Center, which FMH operates.
Earlier this summer, trucking donated by r.k. Miles brought rolls of the turf to storage offered by Carrara and Sons Inc. When the Sports Center ice melts next spring, the rolls will be installed inside the hockey boards from April through September. Marshall said the facility would immediately become more versatile.
“There’s all kinds of things we could do,” he said. “It’s much nicer walking on turf than concrete.”
Middlebury Union High School spring sports athletes and their parents need no explanation of what a turfed Sports Center can offer. When rainfall set records this past spring, the college was generous with its turf fields and indoor facilities, but hours were of necessity limited.
Teams did practice in the Sports Center, but on concrete, not ideal for athletes’ legs.
MUHS activities director Sean Farrell said that with turf the school would almost certainly rent the Sports Center more often, assuming uncooperative weather.
“It would certainly give us more opportunities in the spring,” Farrell said. “We only put baseball and softball there. We used to put lacrosse in there, but it didn’t work.”
Marshall ticked off a list of possible tenants: youth sports teams, including soccer, baseball, softball and lacrosse; commercial renters, such as craft or boat shows, that would find the turf more welcoming; teen dances; and more — FMH members are still brainstorming.
“We’re trying to figure that out right now,” he said.
FMH recently expanded its agreement with the town of Middlebury to operate the Sports Center, and Marshall said the turf would help the group in meeting the goals of the new contract.
“We changed our relationship and our contract so we would operate the facility year-round, and try to actively work to get more activities in there in the spring, summer and fall,” he said. “It gives us more opportunities to find uses for the facility.”
The turf should also help the nonprofit organization’s finances by increasing rental income.
“We have expenses that we incur year-round, whether it be insurance, electricity, maintenance,” Marshall said. “When there’s no ice in there, we’re still paying bills.”
Extra rent, in turn, helps FMH fulfill the hockey part of its mission.
“Ice time in the winter has had to pay for our year-round costs,” Marshall said. “For as long as I can remember, we’ve had the cheapest ice rental rates in the state. Other groups come in here and ask what we charge per hour and are just astonished ... (We want to) keep our rates down so more kids can play.”
Meanwhile, the situation also works from the college point of view.
“It is great that (the turf) will not end up in a landfill,” Quinn said.
And as of late last week, Kohn Field was just about ready for its new surface, which Quinn said should be installed in plenty of time for upcoming field hockey practices.
“We do plan on being on there for our preseason, and everything seems to be proceeding on schedule,” he said.
The practical part of the joint effort began with FMH and college officials spending a couple days on the field. FMH was allowed to pick and choose the prime pieces, with a number to spare.
“We earmarked rolls as they rolled them up,” Marshall said.
Although the rolls are in a Carrara building until the spring, FMH also has to figure out how to store them onsite eventually, in such a manner they can be installed and uninstalled easily — Marshall said the Essex rink can turf its rink or remove it in two or three hours.
The leading contenders are using a corner of the rink that now houses sprinkler equipment and an exit, meaning renovations would be needed, or installing storage containers on the nearby rink exterior.
“We would really love to be able to store it in the building or on the property,” Marshall said. “We’ve got our thinking caps on.”
A forklift with a carpet prong and tubing on which to roll up the turf are also necessary. Most rinks attach Velcro strips to the bottoms of 15-foot-wide swaths of turf to attach them to each other; rink manager Bill Ford is talking to stitching firms about the project. Marshall said 14 strips laid crosswise would cover the Sports Center rink.
The method works well, he said.
“It holds. We saw it in Rutland,” Marshall said.
Once the turf is in and the system is up and running, all involved expect the surface to last.
“For the anticipated use I think it should last a while,” Quinn said. “It will be great for its intended use.”
Marshall said he spoke to representatives of the company removing the old turf, who said dry storage and careful handling should prolong its life for at least another decade, and even two or more.
“The vendor who is putting the new turf down at Kohn Field said the exact same thing. He said indoors you should be able to use this for the foreseeable future,” he said. “If we take care of it, we should be able to hang onto it for a good long time. And we have some extra pieces that we saved as well for repairs. And if one strip happens to go bad, we’ll be able to replace it.”
Marshall, a self-described “adult rink rat” who has served as FMH president since 2000, sees the turf as part of the organization’s mission to help the Sports Center play a more vital role in Middlebury.
Over the winter, FMH introduced well-attended DJ skates and a curling club, and public skating numbers rose, he said.
Marshall, who helped manage a rink in the Mad River Valley before moving to Weybridge, said it’s important for FMH to keep on top of its finances and to keep innovating.
“I’ve been around rinks long enough to know they need a lot of care and feeding and a lot of attention,” Marshall said. “Under our stewardship, we want to pay our bills and stay afloat and continue to improve the place, and continue to offer new things to the community, and this is part of that.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]