The turf field at Highland Park has been used nearly with pause since it was installed in 2011, but this hub of soccer activity in Chelsea has been defective from the get-go, and City officials are now looking at situations in other parts of the country where cities have won settlements to replace these defective fields.
The turf field has been the source of great discussion for several months as the wear and tear on the field has been worrisome to many that use the field. The field has shown extreme wear in the center area, particularly when it comes to “bunching up.”
If experiences with field replacement by the installer, FieldTurf, in other areas are any indication, there might not be such a long and costly wait for relief at Highland Park.
A source outside of Chelsea, but intimately connected to the situation in Chelsea, contacted the Record last week with details about the defective materials used in the field when it was installed in 2011. That defective material is known as Duraspine and it is the fibers used to imitate grass. An outside supplier made the product for FieldTurf, and it was learned to be defective around 2009 or 2010. Now FieldTurf makes its own fiber.
In other locales, fields with the same problem have been replaced at no cost or at a discount, particularly when the warranty was still in place. In Chelsea, the eight-year warranty is still in effect until 2019.
“Area schools, towns and public agencies have spent millions of dollars installing synthetic turf fields in recent years,” said the source, who requested anonymity. “A number of important national class-action lawsuits have just been launched against the main supplier of synthetic turf fields in Massachusetts… Chelsea High School had a non-defective, proper FieldTurf field installed in September 2003. It performed admirably for almost 15 years until it was replaced this summer. The defective Highland Park field is still protected under full warranty until February 2019 at least. All FieldTurf fields had a non-prorated eight-year warranty as a minimum. Many FieldTurf fields have a 10-year warranty. The company’s key strategy is to sit back and ‘run out the clock’ on the warranty and hope that customers, most often taxpayers, don’t notice and get stuck with the replacement costs.”
The heart of the problem is that the outside supplier provided the FieldTurf company with Duraspine materials. At some point around 2009 or 2010, and that date is disputed, the company learned their supplier had used the defective Duraspine materials. That led to a settlement between the supplier and FieldTurf, and FieldTurf has replaced several defective fields across the country because of it.
“Do the responsible public officials even realize they have been completely defrauded; do they know they are possibly plaintiffs in one of the many class-action lawsuits filed against the company?” said the source.
City officials this week said they did not know about the defective materials, and they have forwarded the information to the City Legal Department to look at what can potentially be done for Highland Park.
“This is the first I’m hearing about this issue,” said City Manager Tom Ambrosino. “We are having our City Solicitor investigate the information provided to us.”
All of the above considered, FieldTurf told the Record that the highly-publicized problems in other locales are likely exaggerated.
“We are committed to honoring our warranties and working with our customers to address any issues if they arise,” read a statement from FieldTurf. “It’s important to note that…the Highland Park field in Chelsea was installed in 2011 and is almost near the end of its warranty term. Since we first became aware of the issue with Duraspine, we have been responsive to our customers experiencing issues with their fields. The Duraspine issue has not impacted safety – only how a field looks as it wears – and has been limited to high-UV environments. Worldwide, less than 2 percent of Duraspine fields have been replaced under warranty because of issues with the Duraspine fiber. FieldTurf discontinued the sale of Duraspine in 2010 and transitioned fully to its own self-produced fibers in 2011 – and we have introduced many successful fibers since then.”
Some are asking how it is that Chelsea seemed to get the defective product at Highland Park even after FieldTurf knew of the problems and was transitioning to its own in-house process.
“(I think) FieldTurf knowingly installed defective material at Highland Park,” said the source. “This is outright fraud.”
Several media reports, as well as the source that contacted the Record, have indicated that there are class-action lawsuits in the works. However, FieldTurf said those reports are misleading and should be taken with careful measure.
“There continue to be media reports of a ‘class action’ lawsuit against FieldTurf, but this is misleading, as the Courts have not yet approved any class action against FieldTurf, and they have not yet even decided whether most of the claims are valid,” read the statement. “Importantly, the New Jersey Attorney General’s office and the Federal Trade Commission have both closed investigations into FieldTurf without finding any wrongdoing.”
That suit was filed in March 2017.
FieldTurf, in its statement, did not address why it installed the defective product at Highland Park even after it knew about the problems with Duraspine.