This is Part Three in a four-part series. Read Part One, Part Two and Part Four

Twenty artificial turf fields that once gleamed in the San Diego sun have quickly fallen apart over the last decade thanks to a defect.

The field failures have created dilemmas for school districts that tried to get replacements from FieldTurf USA under the manufacturer’s eight-year warranty. Often, schools were faced with the option of choosing a free replacement with the same defective material, or paying thousands of dollars more to upgrade to a non-defective product that would hold up as originally promised.

San Diego Unified – the region’s largest FieldTurf buyer – had at least two defective fields replaced with more of the same turf that failed.

Still, school district officials have nothing but praise for the company and say there are no plans to change vendors for dozens of upcoming field projects. They also credit FieldTurf with initiating the replacement of five fields before staff even noticed any trouble.

“The district continued to use FieldTurf because the company honored its warranties and proactively replaced fields that might deteriorate in the future at no cost. To date, FieldTurf continues to honor its product warranties,” district spokeswoman Cynthia Reed-Porter said in an email.


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Voice of San Diego scoured thousands of San Diego Unified documents and sought an interview with district officials to discuss the district’s FieldTurf history. Officials declined multiple interview requests and instead made defensive, misleading and at times outright dishonest claims by email.

For starters, Reed-Porter said district fields were replaced for free under warranty before they actually failed as a preventative measure.

“The FieldTurf fields in San Diego Unified did not fail. It would be inaccurate for you insinuate or report in your story,” she wrote Sept. 21. “According to FieldTurf at the time, the fields were beginning to show signs of wear, and might not last though (sic) the entire warranty period.”

That’s not quite what district and FieldTurf officials said in emails when $1.5 million worth of FieldTurf Duraspine turf installed in 2010 at Mira Mesa, San Diego and Morse high schools needed replacement after only four years.

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morse

In 2014, San Diego Unified civil engineer Loren Chico confirmed FieldTurf’s “need to perform a warranty replacement of the defective fields at Mira Mesa HS, Morse HS and San Diego HS,” after FieldTurf’s own staff wrote the “fiber on the field has failed.”

Chico then emailed the three schools, saying: “The carpet this field was made with in 2009 is defective and has deteriorated to the point where it needs to be replaced.”

On another occasion, Chico told a fellow employee in an email, “these fields are rapidly deteriorating.”

Like with other customers, FieldTurf tried to get San Diego Unified to replace the turf with more of the same defective product at the trio of schools, but staff made a rare move and pushed back.

San Diego Unified architect Bill Henning wrote in a 2013 email to a FieldTurf representative:

“It was further indicated that replacement with the same (defective) product did not seem like an appropriate direction in which to proceed and/or for the district to accept as a solution, insofar as correcting a faulty product for which the district previously contracted.”

According to district officials, FieldTurf changed course and instead installed a non-defective turf line free of charge, just weeks after the company settled its lawsuit with its turf supplier, TenCate.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the two fields replaced years earlier at Scripps Ranch and Lincoln high schools. Both high schools had their 2006 FieldTurf fields – which cost over $1 million combined – replaced for free in 2009 with Duraspine turf, the line that originally failed.

This is where the most flagrant claims arose.

For weeks, Reed-Porter repeatedly denied the district ever received the problematic Duraspine turf in a replacement field. In a series of emails, the district adamantly stood by its story: San Diego Unified was not like the rest and did not get defective Duraspine turf in any of its free field replacements.

“The replacements were not the same material. It was the district’s understanding that the replacements were free of manufacturer defects,” Reed-Porter wrote Sept 24.

“The fields were replaced with a non-Duraspine material,” she said again twice on Sept. 27.

On Oct. 6, Reed-Porter wrote, “According to the information we have, Lincoln and Scripps received a non-Duraspine material replacement.”

Only after FieldTurf confirmed for Voice of San Diego the district’s claims about Lincoln and Scripps were wrong did Reed-Porter admit the error and call it a “misunderstanding.” Even then, she said the Duraspine fields, together, fulfilled the original eight-year warranty at the schools “which benefits of (sic) our students and the district.”

Despite the district’s unending praise for FieldTurf, records show all is not rosy on-field these days.

Maintenance employee Frank Shuman said in a May 16 email to FieldTurf, “I am hearing that we are having some trouble with some of (the) football fields with the turf pulling out.”

FieldTurf employee Tim Coury responded six minutes later, “Happy to discuss.”

San Diego Unified’s fondness for FieldTurf goes back more than a decade, during which time FieldTurf was paid more than $15 million for 44 fields large and small, including the freebies. That total does not include a handful of district fields for which no payment records could be located by staff.

For the turf grass and infill alone, a standard high school football field routinely costs the district $500,000 to $600,000 or more for 80,000 to 100,000 square feet of turf, while smaller elementary school fields can cost $100,000 to $200,000 or more for 30,000 to 60,000 square feet, records show.

And FieldTurf is in line for much more San Diego taxpayer cash.

San Diego Unified is midway through its plan to install 55 new turf fields by 2019, many at elementary schools. All will be funded with taxpayer money from Propositions S and Z and, despite its mixed track record, all will be purchased from FieldTurf.

The district has had such confidence in FieldTurf over the years, no other manufacturer has been allowed to compete for the turf job. Public officials continue to argue FieldTurf’s superior product and warranty allows them to skip competitive bidding normally required by state law for public works projects.

Next in the series: FieldTurf USA managed to convince several public school districts to give all their turf jobs to the company, claiming it offered a superior product and warranty all while grappling with a defective product installed at as many as 3,000 fields.

    This article relates to: Education, Must Reads, News, School Finances

    Written by Ashly McGlone

    Ashly is an investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego. She can be reached at ashly.mcglone@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5669.

    15 comments
    Don Wood
    Don Wood subscriber

    Lets hope that San Diego voters remember this the next time the school district tries to float more school bonds. We're already having to pay off billions in school bond debt on our property taxes. No reason to compound the problem.

    Jerry Hall
    Jerry Hall subscribermember

    How are records for several half-million dollar 'purchases' lost?

    Unbelievable.

    I'll bet not one attendance record for state compensation over the same period was lost.

    Nice job VOSD!

    Fred Williams
    Fred Williams subscriber

    Time to re-evaluate our priorities.


    Get sports out of schools.


    Education is the opposite of teaching kids to tackle each other, give each other concussions, and squander scarce resources on stupid immoral games.


    If some parents want their kids to be jocks...fine.  But not on the backs of taxpayers.  Let the professional leagues pay for training athletes.  It's the opposite of education to destroy young minds and bodies with gladiatorial combat.

    richard brick
    richard brick subscribermember

    @Fred Williams I assume you were not very good at sports and were probably picked on by some jocks, but to compare high school sports to "gladiatorial combat" is a little over the top. Girls soccer and softball are hardly gladiatorial.


    I think a majority of parents of high school kids would be upset if you took athletics out of the schools. Parents pay taxes also if they didn't want athletics in schools don't you think we all would have heard from a grass roots parents group by now? After all you keep using the word "immoral" which means "not in conformity with accepted principles".I believe sports in schools has been going on for well over 100 years. That fact makes me think that sports in schools is an accepted principal and not immoral as you claim.


    Coaching on an athletic field or teaching chemistry are the same,your teaching. My varsity basketball coach was my chemistry teacher. My football coach taught bookkeeping, this was before computers.


    Most parents want their children to be involved in some type of accepted activity that will stimulate both their minds and bodies.Playing chess is good for the mind not so much the body. Children have vast amounts of energy that needs to be released in a socially acceptable way, lots of parents feel that sports is that outlet.   

    Fred Williams
    Fred Williams subscriber

    @richard brick @Fred Williams 

    So quickly you go to the ad hominem: "You weren't good at sports, and that's why you don't like it"...and then you'll call me gay, sissy, weak, and so on.


    So predictable.


    Shall I in turn speculate that you stole the small kids' lunch money?


    This kind of personal attack on me shows the weakness of your argument.  And your lack of morality, going straight to the low blow.  That's what coach taught you, right?


    You keep using a definition of morality that is laughably simplistic. Anyone with an IQ above room temperature knows morality is a far more than "accepted principles".  That's only the definition of convention.


    Conventional thinking is what we need to reject.  Yes, in America schools and sports were unfortunately confederated.  No where else does this.  Perhaps that's why our kids are far behind other nations in educational attainment AND physical fitness.

    The genesis of my opposition to football in our schools is my good friend, a former professional football player, who cannot read and write, in spite of 3 years of college.  His body destroyed by football, he was homeless when I met him.


    And he's not alone.  Look it up, buddy boy.  See what happens to the majority of jocks.  It's immoral, and I do not care if it's accepted by people like you that wasting lives, permanently crippling children, wasting education resources for the sake of your entertainment is just fine.



    Jay Berman
    Jay Berman

    It was a dumb thing to do in the first place, Get rid of it, put in sod and sue the turf company to recover.  Get purple pipe recycled water to these fields 

    Scott Garner
    Scott Garner

    @Jay Berman My son's little private HS wanted to build a sports field.  Using artificial turf was out of the question due to the high cost of mitigating water runoff.  One has to wonder, in addition to the initial cost of the artificial turf, how much money has the SDUSD spent on preventing runoff?

    Anniej
    Anniej subscriber

    WHEN????? are we taxpayers, as a community, going to stand up and demand fiscal responsibility and integrity? The key are the decision makers at all of the School Districts - IF they have succumbed to 'pay to play' EVEN ONCE well folks, those greenbacks they took spend very nicely. Turfs are NOT the only area needing investigation - roofs, fencing, flooring also are areas of concerns.

    Bottom line, these School Board Trustees are failing because they are too lazy to do their own research on the Agenda items brought before them. Guess attending all of those functions takes up all of their precious time.

    Having said all of that - WE ARE TO BLAME, it is our failure to vet those we elect that put us In the position of being USED vs SERVED!

    Scott Garner
    Scott Garner

    @Anniej Yes, we are to blame, but not just for who we elect, but also for allowing the elected to employ, at public expense, PR staff whose only real purpose is to lie.  To cover up the corruption and incompetence.  And once the jobs of those bottom feeders are over, they move on to become lobbyists, or "strategists".  And we, as a community, perpetuate the problem by supporting organizations that make money off of those bottom feeders.


    We can elect better people, and we can put the bottom feeders out of work.

    Erika Lundeen
    Erika Lundeen

    Thank you VOSD for continuing to cover this topic. Not only has SDUSD been carless with taxpayers money (bonds) in the past with these fields, but they are being beyond careless with moving forth in installing 55 new turf fields during a time that the EPA, CDC, and CPSC are all studying the health concerns regarding the ground up tires in all of these fields. These studies may take up to 2-3 years to come back and have a high probability of showing they are a health concern for our children; for tires do have 92 chemicals in them including 11 known carcinogens and our children are getting these small tire pieces in their mouths. At the school I work at I see the children rolling and playing in these small pieces of ground up tires and on a 100 degree day there were 44 students that went to the nurse's office with heat exhaustion after playing on the field.  There are no health or safety protocols for these fields. As a concerned parent and educator with our district, I have brought these health and financial concerns up to every level in our district for several months through public testimonies, phone calls, and emails. When asking for what "facts" they are referring to regarding the health and safety of these fields, they only have produced biased studies that were funded by the Turf and Tire Industry and gave revoked safety statements from the CPSC. Not okay when we are serving children. I keep asking what is their plan if the studies come back in 2 years showing ground up tires should not be in close contact with small children? No response. We know what it should be and it will cost millions of taxpayers dollars again to clean it up, which only comes secondary to the years of daily exposure of ground up carcinogens in our children's school playgrounds. As a school district we should be standing by the "Precautionary Principle" with our children, not supporting a product that has been proving to fail. 

    philip piel
    philip piel subscriber

    Why would a public entity funded by tax dollars "allow" another vendor to bid on work, tax dollars aren't "real money." The SDUSD has already eliminated the majority of local construction companies / workers from bidding on school work through their union only labor agreement, eliminating competition from suppliers sounds like a logical next step.

    The trustees of San Diego schools are for education like NAMBLA is for helping young boys.

    Fred Williams
    Fred Williams subscriber

    Sports in schools tend to corrupt.


    Taxpayer funded sports tend to corrupt absolutely.


    (apologies to Lord Acton)


    San Diego has a sordid history of sports related corruption.  John Moores rape of the taxpayer, including bribing a Councilwoman, fielding a team of ringers just before the vote to convert large swaths of downtown to his private domain, and reneging on his promises to build office buildings and hotels, replacing them with condos instead, seems to be forgotten.  Many foolish people, including most journalists and politicians, still call that crook a "philanthropist".


    The Spanos clan always has its hands out for more, and more, and more cash from the taxpayers.  (It's refreshing that FINALLY they were told no...but the insider oligarchs are already scheming to find a way to give them more anyway.)


    And now we see, laid bare, the utterly immoral theft of educational resources using the pretext of sports.


    Time for complete separation of sport and state, or this will just go on and on.

    richard brick
    richard brick subscribermember

    @Fred Williams Forgive me if I'm wrong, but don't all the references you make about San Diego and ill spent tax money have to do with professional sports? Isn't this article about a field turf company and San Diego Unified? Just thought I'd ask. 


    How much did Gompers charter high school just spend to field turf? Any idea? Yet Gompers doesn't have a football team, not sure they have a soccer team.


    Your saying that spending tax payer money on athletics is immoral?  Immoral, according to Websters "not in conformity with accepted principals" 

    Fred Williams
    Fred Williams subscriber

    @richard brick @Fred Williams Yes Mr. Brick, the professional sports leagues are immoral.  And they have infected our schools, K12, Community Colleges, and Universities with their immorality. It's not just these shoddy unhealthy overpriced fields. It's the ongoing conflation of sports and education, which have nothing to do with each other. 

    Accepted principles establish that education has to do with improving young minds, not destroying them with violent games that have no rational reason to be conflated with schools. Here we see the result; corruption, shoddy workmanship, sole-source contracting that squanders public money while draping itself in the laughable excuse that this somehow "benefits our students and district".