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Turf company chosen for J. Fred project is subject of lawsuits

Rick Wagner • Nov 19, 2018 at 11:45 AM

KINGSPORT — The company set to be hired by Kingsport City Schools for a nearly $1 million project to replace artificial turf at Dobyns-Bennett has been hit with numerous multimillion-dollar lawsuits alleging that products installed eight to 10 years ago did not perform as promised and warrantied.

FieldTurf USA, in response to the litigation, has tried to hold its supplier liable for the allegedly poorly performing turf, which according to media reports from across the nation sometimes would bleed black rubber chips to the surface, had issues with seams not holding and would shed artificial grass blades.

The company has a division in Canada, is making its own turf in Calhoun, Ga., and no longer uses the supplier it sued. FieldTurf  is part of an international operation called Tarkett Sports, based in France.

On Friday evening, KCS Superintendent Jeff Moorhouse issued a statement indicating the school board would stand by decision to contract with FieldTurf USA. 

At a bid opening Nov. 7, FieldTurf was the lowest of four bidders on the project, with total construction costs including alternates to be $853,807 plus 6 percent architect fees of $51,228 and 6 percent contingency fees of $51,228 for a total of $956,263, which is to be paid by capital bond proceeds.

The proposal is set to go before the Board of Mayor and Aldermen at its regular 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 20 meeting at City Hall for final approval following the Board of Education’s 5-0 vote to go with FieldTurf on Nov. 13.

A BMA work session is set for 4:30 p.m. Monday, also at City Hall.

HOW DID SCHOOL BOARD VOTE COME ABOUT?

Without knowing about the lawsuits and following the recommendation of Kingsport Chief City Engineer Hank Clabaugh, the BOE voted to award the project to FieldTurf, which installed the original artificial turf at J. Fred Johnson Stadium in February 2008. The work is supposed to be completed by Feb. 11, 2019, in time for the start of baseball season and is to be done concurrently with work on an athletic field at the University of Tennessee, D-B Principal Chris Hampton said during last week’s BOE meeting.

Among other things, “J. Fred” is the football and baseball venue for D-B, but it also is used for middle school games, Fun Fest concerts, graduations and other community events. 

Forbes magazine on Oct. 22, 2014 reported that “FieldTurf (the leader in artificial turf) filed a major lawsuit against its largest supplier — Royal TenCate based in Holland. By their own admission, at least 167 FieldTurf fields have failed because the synthetic grass fiber has degraded prematurely.”

In question is a material called Dursapine, about which Assistant Superintendent of Administration Andy True said about 8 percent installed from certain lot numbers during the 2008-10 time frame proved defective.

MOORHOUSE STATEMENT:

“After reviewing all information, we are confident in the decision of the board to continue forward with the recommendation for turf installation at J. Fred Johnson Stadium by FieldTurf USA,” Moorhouse said.

“The issues raised related to product problems were not safety-related and are limited to a small percentage of materials provided by a third party that has not been utilized by FieldTurf USA in several years. In fact, when the situation occurred, FieldTurf discontinued the use of that third-party material and proceeded to develop and produce their own technology, resulting in products that have since been widely purchased and installed for professional sports franchises and major universities across America.

“FieldTurf was the manufacturer of the surface previously installed at Dobyns-Bennett over a decade ago, and recent installations include organizations such as the Atlanta Falcons, Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots, Ohio State University, Notre Dame University and many others. We are confident that as the national industry leader in this product, FieldTurf USA will be able to continue to deliver the same quality product and support experienced by D-B since 2008 that has also taken place at so many professional and major college venues across the United States.”

EXISTING D-B TURF DIDN’T HAVE ANY MAJOR PROBLEMS

“We have not had issues here beyond normal wear and tear,” True said Thursday of the D-B turf, which he said had issues with stitches around a logo that were repaired at no charge. He said the turf was provided through FieldTurf but installed by another company.

A FieldTurf official said the D-B field did not use the product which has been the subject of lawsuits.

True said other local high schools using FieldTurf include Tennessee and Elizabethton.

WHAT DOES FIELDTURF SAY?

In an email Friday, Darren Gill, Montreal, Canada-based vice president of marketing, innovation and customer service for FieldTurf, said:

— “We are very confident in our fields. We deliver high-quality products that are some of the most innovative on the market. Our fibers outperform the competition in multiple industry tests, including Pennsylvania State’s Fiber Wear Testing and Labosport’s Fiber Performance Index (FPI).”

— “FieldTurf discontinued the use of the Duraspine fiber in 2010 and transitioned fully to its own self-produced fibers in 2011. The Duraspine issue has not impacted safety — only how a field looks as it wears — and has been limited to high-UV (ultraviolet light) environments. Worldwide, less than 2 percent of Duraspine fields have been replaced under warranty because of issues with the Duraspine fiber. Furthermore, the state Attorney General in New Jersey recently closed his investigation into FieldTurf without finding any wrongdoing. Additionally, in February 2017, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) informed us that they were not pursuing an investigation into FieldTurf.”

— “We are committed to honoring our warranties and working with our customers to address any issues if they arise. Since we first became aware of the issue with Duraspine, we have been responsive to our customers experiencing issues with their fields.”

— Gill also said the warranty on FieldTurf products, including the one to be installed at D-B, is still for eight years and that D-B never had Duraspine. “The product installed at J. Fred Johnson Stadium was FieldTurf Classic, not Duraspine. This field has continued to perform well to this day, more than 10 years after it was installed, and significantly beyond our standard eight-year warranty term.”

WHERE CAN YOU READ ABOUT MORE DETAILS OF LAWSUITS? 

Newspaper articles from New Jersey, a five-part San Diego series, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, as well as one by Forbes magazine and an Atlanta television station. The USA today article was about lawsuits out of Texas and at Father Ryan High School, a private school in Nashville, where the field began failing four years after installation and the school filed suit in 2013. Class action suits have abounded against FieldTurf, which in 2011 filed a suit against the Holland-based supplier and subsequently moved its North American operation from Canada to Georgia, where it started making its own turf. True said said only certain lots of Dursapine were defective.

The Safe Healthy Playing Fields Coalition online has a listing of news articles about turf lawsuits from FieldTurf. 

An Internet search will yield pages of hits about FieldTurf turf problems and lawsuits.

HOW DID THE NEWSPAPER APPROACH THIS ISSUE?

The Kingsport Times News Friday reached out to all five BOE members, including President Carrie Upshaw, via email. Todd Golden said he was unaware of the lawsuits until he did an Internet search immediately after the meeting but has since researched the matter further and believes the company is well-positioned to install and warranty the D-B football and baseball field. However, he questioned why City Attorney Mike Billingsley or someone with the city and/or school system didn’t discover and report the multiple lawsuits to the board before the vote.

Under Tennessee law, school board members can’t discuss and deliberate on a decision among themselves without notice and a called or regular meeting; however, school administrators can talk with each board member separately about such issues to form a concencus, in this case to proceed with the FieldTurf contract.

The Times News first contacted the school system about the lawsuits Thursday morning, emailing with Assistant Superintendent of Administration Andy True, and then calling Golden, talking by phone with True and attempting Thursday and Friday to call Upshaw. The paper Friday emailed all five board members at their school system email addresses. Only True and Golden had responded as of Friday evening, when True provided the emailed statement by Moorhouse.

 

 

 

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