Reliant Stadium adds AstroTurf® with State Games in Mind

by David Barron in General

Forty-six years and about 150 yards removed from the building that made it a household name, AstroTurf® arrived Monday at Reliant Stadium.

Photo of AstroTurf installation at Reliant Stadium

Fransisco Lares uses a pair of scissors to cut taller strands of synthetic grass from the newly installed AstroTurf field at Reliant Stadium. (Cody Duty / Houston Chronicle)

A considerably updated version of the carpet on which the Astros played in 1966 and on which Earl Campbell bulldozed defenders in the late 1970s was rolled out at Reliant Stadium, where it will be used for high school playoff games as early as next month and, potentially, high school championship games in 2013.

Mark Miller, general manager of Reliant Park, said the new AstroTurf® field cost about $1.2 million, including installation, maintenance and storage equipment.

For now, it will be kept when it is not in use — irony of ironies — in the empty, endangered Astrodome, where artificial playing fields first went into widespread use in the mid-1960s.

“That is an interesting point,” Miller said. “But to me, the story is what it will do for us. It will be instrumental, we hope, in getting the high school championship games here. That was the driving force.”

“This will give us a lot more uses that the natural grass system just won’t accommodate. Grass can’t hold up to the level of play that this field will, and it gives us the ability to play a lot more events.”

Photo of AstroTurf Installation Crew attaching seams of the turf system

AstroTurf employees remove the synthetic grass as it’s removed from Reliant Stadium. “We’re trying to save the natural grass field for the NFL so it will stay in better condition, and yet we’re trying to generate new revenue, ” said Mark Miller, general manager of SMG-Reliant Park. (Cody Duty / Houston Chronicle)

Reliant Park, which will continue to use its grass field for Texans games, hopes to host high school doubleheaders during the first two weekends of the 2012 playoffs in November. The ultimate goal, however, is to host the three-day University Interscholastic League single-site championship festival, which this year will be held in December at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. Reliant last hosted a UIL title game in 2008.

Among those attending Monday’s demonstration were Charles Breithaupt, the UIL’s executive director, and Mark Cousins, the agency’s athletics director, both of whom said they were encouraged by the possibility of returning title games to Reliant.

Breithaupt said state officials probably will meet in February or March to discuss future title game weekends.

Tony Willis, a longtime coach and administrator who now works for the Texas City school district, said games in Reliant would represent a dream come true for high school athletes.

“When I was at La Marque in the 1980s and ’90s, the kids would lie on the field of the Astrodome and look at the roof just for the awe factor,” he said. “Today, our kids are Texans fans. It would be a big thing for them to get to play where the Texans play.”

Photo of AstroTurf installing synthetic turf at Reliant Stadium

AstroTurf employees pull up the synthetic grass as it’s removed from Reliant Stadium. (Cody Duty / Houston Chronicle)

The new field, known formally as AstroTurf® GameDay Grass™ 3D60 Xtreme, is built in two layers — a 17⁄8-inch-high series of polyurethane grass-like fibers woven into a plastic base and a network of shorter plastic fibers known as the “root zone” that holds in place about 200,000 pounds of pulverized rubber that approximates dirt and provides cushioning.

The goal, company president Bryan Peeples said, is a field more comparable to real grass than the rock-hard AstroTurf® of the 1960s through the ’90s, which consisted of a ¾-inch layer of textured nylon atop a one-inch-thick foam pad.

“I don’t want anybody to think it’s the same AstroTurf®,” Miller said. “It’s a completely different system.”

Photo of Bryan Peeples speaking about AstroTurf

Bryan Peeples, President of AstroTurf, speaks about the newly installed AstroTurf at Reliant Stadium. (Cody Duty / Houston Chronicle)

The AstroTurf® brand, originated by Monsanto, was acquired in 2005 by the Peeples family-owned Textile Management Associates of Dalton, Ga. It is used at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, by Major League Baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays, and by several colleges, including Kansas State, Boston College and Ohio State.

The Reliant field consists of 59 strips of carpet, each weighing about 7,000 to 8,000 pounds, assembled in 28 15-foot rows. The base of each strip includes a Velcro base used to connect the carpet sections. Installation or removal requires about six to eight hours, and the field has an eight-year warranty.

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