Grass on Welch Field to be Replaced with Turf

After months of construction, the grass on Welch Field will be replaced with artificial turf. PHOTOS BY DOMINIQUE CADENAS CALVO/SF FOGHORN AND COURTESY @USFCA ON TWITTER

Welch Field, sandwiched between Kalmanovitz Hall and St. Ignatius, has seen better days. The field became closed off to the community last fall once construction to inspect the underground pipeline began, and the grass on both Welch Field and Gleeson Plaza got uprooted in the process. 

Although grass has since returned to Gleeson Plaza, Welch Field is still a dirt patch. The Foghorn learned through an anonymous tip from a University source that the University is installing turf on the field instead of grass, though they have not released an official announcement outside of listing it in Facilities’ online construction updates

The decision came in February and the installment is expected to be finished on May 15, Associate Vice President of Facilities Management Mike London told the Foghorn. Parties responsible for proposing and finalizing the decision are not able to be disclosed publicly in accordance with University practice. As the project continues to roll out, many in the community are in the dark about the decision.

London said the main reasons for switching to turf were “usability reasons,” such as inaccessibility of the grass field after poor weather due to mud, and “saving water, avoiding fertilizers, avoiding use of gas powered mowers and labor savings.” London said he does not  anticipate any adverse environmental or health consequences with the decision, and maintains that the installation will cost “potentially equal to or less than the cost to install and maintain natural turf.” 

Richard Hsu, sustainability coordinator of the Office of Sustainability — which is housed under Facilities Management — told the Foghorn that the office did not play a part in the final decision-making process. “I first heard [about the turf] from one of my students that works in the office,” said Hsu. “Once I heard that, I tried to reach out to see if I could learn more about it, through facilities. I learned that facilities didn’t really have a say in this project, we were just told that it was going to happen.” 

According to London, he “consulted with” Hsu about turf in March, a month after the decision had been made. Hsu asked for specifics about the turf product, which London “did not have at that time,” and London told Hsu that “if he had specific questions about the turf install on Welch field that he would answer them when received.”

“Mr. Hsu did not offer any specific questions,” London said.

Hsu said projects of greater size are typically out of the Office of Sustainability’s control. “We do have a lot of influence when it comes to our zero-waste practices, especially like day-to-day operations. But larger projects, like the field, like our voluntary carbon-offset purchases, we weren’t really involved in any of those decisions,” said Hsu.

In response to concerns about turf’s environmental impact, London maintained that, “A substantial component of the potential negative carbon impact of artificial turf is related to the production, installation, removal, and maintenance of infill.” He continued, “Since Welch Field serves a recreational purpose, infill is not needed.” The Foghorn previously reported potential risks of turf, including an increased risk of injury, release of carcinogens into air and waterways, and the potential for hot surface-levels on turf fields in summer. Some risks, such as greater injuries, will be avoided on Welch Field due to the exclusion of infill. 

Gerard Kuperus, a philosophy professor and co-chair of the One Earth Initiative (OEI), did not know about this development for Welch Field. OEI, under the recommendation of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’, is a seven-year-long commitment the University made to become an institution that honors ecological philosophy and holistic spirituality. 

“Artificial grass in a place where we used to have real grass, it’s in so many ways misguided and going exactly against this idea of connecting more with nature,” Kuperus said. “Even if we just left the grass, that would have been better than artificial grass… But we also could have done a lot more in creating a space to hangout. A green space with, perhaps, a garden, drought-resistant lawn, or something like that. There’s so many opportunities there.” 

Artificial turf isn’t the only option for Welch Field. “Smart lawns” have become a drought-friendly, inexpensive alternative to ornamental grass in the past decade. As the Foghorn previously reported, ground cover plants such as clover or creeping thyme are options that   “Both use less water than regular grass, but still provide a lush, green area to relax and play in.”

The California Department of Water Resources also offers a “Go Golden” financial grant to organizations replacing ornamental lawns with native plants, to promote better water conservation. 

The installation will be complete just shy of May 18 commencement. PHOTO COURTESY OF @USFCA ON TWITTER

Although they’re graduating in May, fourth-year environmental studies major Mateo González expressed their frustrations about the decision. “I see the University’s decision with Welch Field as a missed opportunity,” they said. “What could have happened if administration, instead, turned to the student body for ideas on how to make Welch Field more environmentally sustainable?” 

“As a student of [environmental studies], I know that there is no shortage of these ideas,” said González. “We might have seen a new space for urban agriculture with built-in spaces for study, or perhaps a native plant garden that wraps our study groups in colorful, community-kept biodiversity.” 

Hsu is calling for more communication in decision making processes that affect USF’s population. “I get the fact that if multiple stakeholders are involved in any decision-making, that can tend to slow down such decision-making, but at the same time I feel like it’s important to get community buy-in, especially if it’s the community using that space,” said Hsu. 

As the OEI looks to the future and Welch Field approaches its finalization date, Kuperus is asking for the breadth of knowledge housed at USF to be mobilized. “It seems like, most of all, you have these top-down decisions regarding anything sustainable, or unsustainable,” he said. “We really have so much knowledge here on campus. We have environmental scientists, we have students[…] who have been involved in elaborate research projects with their professors — why are we never asked about any of these decisions?” 

A previous version of this article mistakenly directed readers looking to provide feedback to the incorrect channels. This information has since been removed, and we will update the article as correct information is made available to our staff

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