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Synthetic sports field built in Brisbane to beat drought-like conditions wins over players

By Michael Rennie, Saturday November 30, 2019 - 09:07 EDT
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Mitchelton Soccer Club's artificial field can be used more often, and in all sorts of weather. - ABC

With Australia in the grip of drought and the cost of water rising, one Brisbane sporting club has built a $1.5 million artificial playing field because of its ongoing struggles to keep the grounds green.

Mitchelton Soccer Club in northern Brisbane spends up to $30,000 a year watering four full-sized fields and four mini fields, on top of the $20,000 cost of maintenance.

Brisbane City Council and the Queensland Government pitched in to cover the cost of the new field, which will take a load off the existing surfaces by reducing the time they are in use.

"It's a well-built pitch … new generation, and it's built to FIFA certification and rugby union certification as well," club president Gary Green said.

The surface, completed in August, can be used much more frequently — around 75 hours a week compared to 15 hours for the grassed surface.

Synthetic fields can also be played on in almost any weather conditions and the surface is more forgiving on hips, knees and ankles.

"It certainly can be gentler on people," Mr Green said.

"We've got a number of over-35, over-45 teams down there, who were sort of reluctant at the whole thing. But with this new technology, it's hard to keep them off.

"They'll say they can go on there and they get up the next day and they haven't got all the aches and pains they used to have playing on a hard-surface pitch."

Mitchelton Soccer Club's part-time groundsman, Glenn Graf, said the lack of rain had left their grass fields in a terrible condition.

He runs the sprinklers for 10 to 15 minutes a night, but it is an ongoing battle to keep the grass green.

"The problem is the water … we use too much of it, the bores can't fill the tank up quick enough," he said.

"You can't really put enough water down for the heat through the day, especially as it gets into summer. It gets really, really hard to keep it all going."

This year's water bill could even rise above $30,000, as the club will still have to keep on maintaining the eight remaining fields.

But it is hoped that eventually the cost will fall as wear and tear reduce from being used less frequently.

Michael Barbagallo plays regularly on the artificial field and loves it.

"To be honest, I think it's amazing. I don't even want to go back to the old field," he said.

"This is just so much nicer, better on your feet, better on the ball, everything, it's great. Everything is nice and level."

Anthony Sava, who runs the company that built the artificial field, said the surface was designed with durability and human frailty in mind.

It has a "monofilament" blade shaped into a figure eight to give good resilience during heavy use.

It also has a layer of "performance" infill under the turf made from shredded recycled tyres.

"We've got a 20-millimetre shock pad, a 60mm turf system with a sand and rubber in-fill mix," Mr Sava said.

"That's a very specific turf in there that we use for our football system."

Dispute over fund allocation

The cost of maintaining fields became a controversy earlier this year when the club used about $30,000 of the $1.1 million allocated by the council for the artificial field to repair some of its existing fields.

"There was no misappropriation — there was an incorrect interpretation of what the funds could be used for," Mr Green said.

"Because we were losing one field, we used some of the money to repair other fields. Subsequently, we had to make sure that amount of money was spent on the synthetic pitch.

"We're still talking to the council just finalising it all, but it will be resolved."

In a statement, the Brisbane City Council said it was working with the club, who have a repayment plan in place.

Meanwhile, amid ongoing drought-like conditions across the capital, the council is working with other clubs to help build synthetic sports fields.

"Council sees great community value in synthetic fields, not only locally but for all of our drought-affected communities," he said.

The State Government said in a statement that it would also be funding more synthetic fields.


© ABC 2019

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