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

FieldTurf USA accomplished the seemingly impossible in recent years.

The artificial turf company managed to convince several public school districts to give all their turf jobs to FieldTurf, claiming they offered a superior product and warranty — all while grappling with a defective product installed at as many as 3,000 schools.

Grass blades quickly faded, laid flat or tore out entirely, causing shedding and bald spots. In some cases, the fields raised safety concerns and caused dilemmas for districts that sometimes ended with them shelling out more public money to FieldTurf.

Districts that saw their fields fall apart while still under warranty were pushed to “upgrade” their turf for $25,000 to $300,000 more, or risk it with a free replacement field that used the same turf that failed.

Yet it’s FieldTurf’s quality, warranty terms and a desire for district uniformity that public officials claimed allowed them to skip a competitive bidding process normally required by state law for public works projects and use only FieldTurf products.


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The school boards at San Diego Unified, Grossmont Union High School District, Carlsbad Unified, San Dieguito Union High School District and the San Diego Community College District declared FieldTurf the district standard for turf material. Doing so allows them to bypass all other turf brands and makes FieldTurf’s contract a sure thing.

“The District has found that FieldTurf’s resistance to UV light and regular wear and tear has proven to be more durable than other artificial turf brands used throughout the County,” a June 2008 resolution passed by the San Diego Community College District board said.

UV light was a major cause of FieldTurf’s failures nationwide and locally. The company sued its grass supplier, TenCate, in 2011, blaming it for a defect that caused fields to fail prematurely. A jury trial in 2014 was cut short when TenCate paid FieldTurf an undisclosed amount to settle the dispute.

FieldTurf’s local customer base remained strong during and after the litigation.

Grossmont’s project manager Dena Johnson emailed El Capitan High School’s facility manager in September 2013:

“So, if you ever want to replace your turf which is 8 years old, you have to use FieldTurf they are the Governing Board approved vendor”

More than a year later, when Grossmont High needed a new field, Grossmont’s director of purchasing, Rian Pinson, told project manager Chris Rizzuti in an email:

“Lorrie us (sic) looking into this for pricing. We definitely do not need other quotes because this is the district standard turf approved by the board”

No-bid, sole-source deals, as they’re often called, played a large role in helping FieldTurf corner and hold onto the lucrative public artificial turf market in the region. The company has made at least $33 million installing fields at the county’s public schools in the last decade and is in line to get millions more in the next few years from San Diego Unified, public records reviewed by Voice of San Diego show.

FieldTurf’s warranty replacement tactics are the subject of school district lawsuits elsewhere in the state and country. No local districts have sued to date.

Had local schools not used FieldTurf for all their turf jobs, they may not have been so negatively impacted by the defective product. They likely would have saved some serious money, too.

“You are putting all your eggs in one basket,” said Larry Foster, a Bay Area landscape architect routinely hired to design synthetic turf fields for schools. “If you have FieldTurf putting in two to three fields over here, and Astroturf putting in two to three, so what? You are going to get more competition.”

Foster finds San Diego County’s use of sole-source contracting for artificial fields problematic.

“There wasn’t any competition on those projects and the pricing reflected that,” Foster said, after reviewing FieldTurf payments for several local field projects.

A former FieldTurf executive who testified at the TenCate trial in 2014 said FieldTurf fetched the highest prices in the market, routinely a dollar more than the competition per square foot. That adds up when you are covering an 80,000 square foot football field.

The FieldTurf premium has borne out locally too when public officials bother to informally explore or bid other options, public records show.

Helix High School’s athletic director Damon Chase found that to be the case, writing in a December 2014 email to Grossmont district project manager Rizzuti:

“He is $100k higher than the other turf company I had give me a quote”

The charter school went with FieldTurf anyway last year, in part, because it was the Grossmont school district standard.

FieldTurf’s own turf pricing has swung dramatically when exposed to competition.

When the city of Encinitas put its Leo Mullen Sports Park turf job out to bid this year, it paid $455,000, or $5.32 per square foot, for FieldTurf’s premium Revolution turf. Compare that with the $6.46 per square foot paid for turf going in at Pacific Beach Middle School this year.

Officials at San Diego Unified stand by the decision to sole-source the turf for all district fields to FieldTurf, and spokeswoman Cynthia Reed-Porter said, “The FieldTurf product pricing is competitive in the market.”

“This is the equivalent of a company buying a fleet of Ford or Chevy vehicles to lower the cost, expedite fleet maintenance, train less mechanics, buy fewer spare parts, etc.,” Reed-Porter said in an email. “As another example, the district has two locksmiths. To make it easier to maintain locks at approximately 200 schools, we have standardized the brands of locks installed.”

Other turf companies have objected to the lack of competition on occasion, asking San Diego Unified to allow others to bid. District records show their requests were flatly denied. They just aren’t welcome.

True Turf CEO Frederick Quindt IV wrote to the district March 3, 2009:

“Surprisingly, I was told by Park West: ‘There’s really not a bid available for this project. FieldTurf is already getting the work. They’re already locked in.’ When I pressed how this could be the state of affairs when the deadline was still four days away, the representative said he couldn’t explain.”

In a March 9, 2009 reply letter to Quindt IV, San Diego Unified’s bond program director at the time, Stuart Markey, defended the district’s choice.

“The homogeneity of fields throughout the District makes it easier and less costly to maintain one type of field over many fields from different manufacturers,” Markey said. “For this reason, the District specified FieldTurf to match the existing artificial turf at schools throughout the District.”

Markey also praised FieldTurf’s “durability, warranty, maintenance costs, visual appearance, functionality, and product attributes.”

Before FieldTurf had a total lock on the turf jobs at San Diego Unified, one principal lobbied hard for FieldTurf.

“FieldTurf has shown itself to be the only reliable product out there,” Dana Shelburne, then La Jolla High’s principal, said in a 2006 email to district staff. “Why not make the specs equal to those of Fieldturf, then let those who want the business raise their standards?”

Shelburne then forwarded the emails to FieldTurf’s regional salesman Tim Coury, who has a history of aggressive sales tactics.

Poway Unified’s longtime director of facilities stressed the convenience of having to only pick up the phone to deal with one company when turf issues and needs arise across the district.

Poway has only allowed FieldTurf products since 2001, even though fields failed at Del Norte High, Meadowbrook Middle, Valley Elementary and Willow Grove Elementary.

In a 2002 email to a consultant designing a field for the Sweetwater Union High School District, Coury laid out the various ways public agencies “made sure they get the product they want in a public arena.” He included narrowly written field specifications for Sweetwater to use in its bid documents that would ensure FieldTurf got the job.

Some districts wrote bid requirements only FieldTurf could meet, while others specified FieldTurf by name, Coury explained in the email.

Still others sought a request for proposals from various companies but were “not obligated to except (sic) the low bid. In these cases, the client worked together with us to establish the budget … FieldTurf was chosen even though in the RFP process it was never the low bid,” Coury wrote.

A list provided to Sweetwater by Coury of those that skipped competitively bidding their field one way or another included Grossmont College, Hoover High, La Jolla High, Patrick Henry High, San Diego State University and Westview High School.

“Not one of these jobs, or any other in California or the entire West Coast, had any litigation to challenge their specifications,” Coury wrote in 2002. “The ploy to threaten litigation by competitors was used in a few entities but was ‘never’ challenged.”

Other districts choose to use the state’s cooperative purchasing agreement, called CMAS, to avoid competing the job locally. They simply piggyback off a state contract with FieldTurf and use those prices.

“This method will guarantee that you get FieldTurf. You won’t have to write the RFP to allow other products and then hope you get FieldTurf,” Mike Mele, with architectural design firm Mele Amantea, advised Grossmont Union High School District in a 2008 email.

The love affair with FieldTurf runs so deep, some school boards voted to make the brand the district standard for all future fields at the exact same time they voted to pay to replace defective FieldTurf fields that showed problems before the warranty was up.

Both Carlsbad Unified and San Dieguito Union High School District board leaders did so in April 2015. Carlsbad High’s replacement cost $150,000 and La Costa Canyon High’s cost $300,000.

Eric Dill, interim superintendent of the San Dieguito Union High School District, said the district did not intend to make FieldTurf its standard turf, even though both the architect and board item said, “Award of this contract will standardize the same synthetic turf field surfacing and supplemental pad system at all of the district’s high schools.”

Carlsbad’s board resolution – like the one approved by the San Diego Community College District – touted FieldTurf’s UV endurance, a weakness that ended up causing the company’s Duraspine field failures, like the one at Carlsbad High.

“The District has found that the FieldTurf brand’s resistance to UV light and regular wear and tear has proven to be more durable than other artificial turf brands used throughout the District,” the April 22, 2015, resolution said. “Carlsbad Unified School District determines that FieldTurf brand shall be the District-wide standard for artificial turf.”

Suzanne O’Connell, the district’s deputy superintendent, said the praise referred to the positive experience they had with a newer FieldTurf grass in use at Sage Creek High School and now Carlsbad High, the second time around.

    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
    steve saunders
    steve saunders subscriber

    1. Products sometimes fail.

    2. Warranties are honored to fulfill the original committed timeframe. If the warranty calls for eight years and it only lasts five and you get a new field that lasts five more, you're two years ahead of the game. (Just like my water pump going out at 70k miles and being replaced with one that makes it to 140k. On my 100k warranty, I'm good with that!)
    3. Upgrades are offered as an option. Nothing wrong with that as long as it's an option that can be rejected and the original warranty is being honored--which they have been!
    4. If your goal is a "product recall" the issue is with the manufacturer, not the distributor/manufacturer's rep (FieldTurf) who approached/sued the manufacturer for support for themselves and their customers. 
    5.  You haven't made a strong case for a product recall. Injuries have been hinted at by the author, but no facts or figures on injury rates have been presented. If there is a safety factor involved, that's one thing. But if it's cosmetic (fading, normal wear and tear), that is NOT a cause for EVERYBODY to get a new field carte blanche. Get real! 
    6. You're slamming the FieldTurf rep for doing his job: i.e., differentiating his product and selling the value of his product so well that the customer specifies his specs until the competition matches it. This sounds like the whining of the company/rep who just got out-worked and out-hustled by a better salesperson. Calling him out by name is completely uncalled for, especially when you leave those who wrote the bid (public employees) anonymous. 
    7. The only hint of "investigative journalism" I detected was you reference to the e-mail implying a possible offer of a kick-back. This was the only thing I felt could have been egregious about this whole matter and I thought it  could've and should've been reported on more thoroughly (Who followed up on it and how? What ramifications occurred?  Why or why not? Did a publicly paid employee let this slide? Is there any other evidence of possible bribes or kickbacks? This, I think, was the REAL story that would have justified such a lengthy series of articles.). 

    mwkingsandiego
    mwkingsandiego subscriber

    Ok - enough already, I've got it, we know they done bad, the horse is dead, you don't need to beat the drum any longer.


    So now what? You hint at near-certain negligence by what appears a large number of district staff & elected officials in selecting inferior products on no-bid contracts, or RFPs that only one supplier could meet. But the issue is county wide - a single procurement office could go off the rails but that won't create a county-wide situation. The fact that so many districts all went in the same direction hints at something of a much broader and more serious conspiracy.

    How about some insightful reporting on the root cause of this situation? Possible civil and criminal outcomes? Could this be a local instance of the "Fat Leonard scandal" that surfaced in the Navy recently?  

    Fred Williams
    Fred Williams subscriber

    @mwkingsandiego You're so loveably naive.  :-)


    It's San Diego.  None of the wrong doers will be punished.  The DA is too busy persecuting pot heads, and the City Attorney only goes after his political rivals.  These are members of the establishment, and it's only kids and taxpayers who got damaged...so nobody important.


    All involved will be promoted, and the journalist will be run out of town.


    Business as usual...move along, nothing to see here.

    Karlos Garcia
    Karlos Garcia

    @mwkingsandiego You're assuming that there is a deeper root cause other than sheer negligence, laziness, and stupidity. Not every bad decision has sinister underpinnings. I wouldn't be shocked to learn that some kind of kick back action has occurred, but reporting based on loose suspicion instead of verifiable facts is what the national enquirer does.

    Peter Johnson
    Peter Johnson subscribermember

    Thank you  Ms. McGlone and VOSD for once again providing the type of journalism and truth in a time so rife with misinformation, greed and propagandist advertising. 


    That yet another contractor hired to provide a public service has bilked the tax payer should be no surprise. These companies are not in business to provide a service to the public but to instead acquire lucrative government contracts and the dollars that go with them. To be fair, there are those that do provide a quality service and are not a odious as FieldTurf but with less and less oversight from government this sort of corruption easily spreads


    Your series is why I read and am a member of VOSD.. 

    Joe Jones
    Joe Jones subscriber

    I'm guessing Field Turf hasn't "made" $33 million, they've grossed $33 million. Let's hope that's the only glaring error in this report.

    Mark Willy
    Mark Willy

    I am guessing you all voted for Hillary too!! Hahaha So Sad!

    Fred Williams
    Fred Williams subscriber

    Instead of protecting taxpayers and students, it appears group thinking go-along to get-along time servers betrayed their fiduciary and moral responsibilities.


    Who will be fired?  (*crickets)


    Again, this isn't surprising.  Sports and corruption go hand in hand.


    Let's get sports out of the schools.  Time to focus on education.  The future of our children, and the nation, depends on all of us turning away from the out of date idea that sports based entertainment and education are the same thing.

    Fred Williams
    Fred Williams subscriber

    @Bill Bradshaw @Fred Williams Added note:  "....sports and corruption go hand in hand."


    How many SDSU athletic scandals in the last two decades?  I've lost count.


    Spanos ripping off taxpayers?  Not even news anymore, just how that clan does "business".


    And the biggest crook in San Diego history, John Moores, who used the Padres as a cover to bilk San Diego out of hundreds of millions.


    I'm proud that San Diego finally said "enough is enough" by voting against the idiotic proposal to build yet another publicly funded stadium for private profit.  But I'm confident the oligarchs who have a strangle on San Diego will find a way to give the football boosters what they want.  Vigilance is required to prevent them from robbing the city blind, but will the majority of news outlets breathe a word about how bad these deals are?  Not so long as they have sports columnists, sports broadcasters, and cozy advertising deals with those same teams.

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    @Fred Williams I agree with your first two paragraphs, Fred, but #3/4 bother me.  Without sports, would you also eliminate P E?  Athletic competition, within reason, is a very healthy lesson in life, which students will discover soon enough is just full of competition.  


    What I think this fiasco demonstrates is that "groupthink' is rampant throughout the public sector because most of the people there are not used to challenge and it's so much safer to "go along".  Independent thinking is seldom rewarded, which is a good explanation of how many of the cities and counties in California got in big trouble with pension costs.  They couldn't afford the big increases, but since "everyone else was doing it", they'd find a way to come up with the cash.  Most didn't so public services suffered. 


    I would hope that Ashley's excellent reporting would shake up the system, but as an octogenarian who has lived my entire life in the Golden State, I know better.   

    Fred Williams
    Fred Williams subscriber

    Final note:  "....out of date idea that sports based entertainment and education are the same thing"

    History buffs know that the idea of tacking sports onto the educational system originated in Germany, and reached its apogee under the fascists.  America foolishly copied this model.  Germany stopped it, recognizing the danger after their defeat in WWII.  America continues until this day.

    Fred Williams
    Fred Williams subscriber

    @Bill Bradshaw @Fred Williams Hey Bill, old friend, let me be clear.


    Physical activity is extremely important.  I couldn't agree more.


    But there is absolutely no reason it has to take the form of violent contact sports.  Nor does it require expensive specially built artificial fields.


    How about dance?  Great exercise.  Running, jumping, or just sustained walking will keep you fit.  When an activity is encouraged for all students, it can be part of school activities, especially in the K-8 years.


    But what do we have today?  Competitive sports teams, like football, which only a small minority of students participate in, do little for the state of physical fitness.  Instead, the rest of the students are berated into being "fans" and passively observing, or "rooting for the team".  Herded into pep rallies, missing class to do so, they must cheer those very students who are too often the bullies of the campus.


    And what attention do other students receive?  When's the last time you heard of how a debate team does (how many schools even have a debate team nowadays)?  The papers coverage of the schools seems to be about 80% sports.  So students get the message that only the jocks matter, and studying is comparatively less important.


    When we then add in the serious, lifelong physical injuries caused by football and today's extreme cheer leading...it gets into the territory of criminal child abuse.

    http://edition.cnn.com/2016/01/11/health/football-brain-damage-cte/

    http://nypost.com/2013/09/13/most-dangerous-sport-for-female-athletes-cheerleading/


    Again, if students want to play football, or learn to cage fight in the MMA, that's up to them and their parents.  But there's no moral or educational justification for this to be part of the schools.


    As you probably know, other countries would never dream of doing this to their young people.  It's reflected in our ever dropping test scores, and ever increasing obesity rates.


    Thanks for your comment.

    Anniej
    Anniej subscriber

    Ms. McGlone, as a taxpayer I would like to THANK YOU and THE VOICE for your exceptional investigative journalism!!!

    Informative NEWS, like this, is hard to find!!!!

    CHEERS!!!!

    SherryS
    SherryS subscriber

    Maybe this is why San Diego Unified can't afford to buy Scholastic News for elementary school children. 

    mwkingsandiego
    mwkingsandiego subscriber

    @SherryS Pretty clearly why some schools in SD Uni still don't have air conditioning, but do have mountains of deferred maintenance in the buildings around their magnificent fields.