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Defective artificial turf sold across L.I.

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Part two of two

Of the 12 public school districts in Nassau that unknowingly purchased defective artificial turf fields between 2006 and 2012, only the Levittown School District has filed a claim to have its two high-school fields replaced for free.

Recently, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that the Levittown district, and fellow plaintiffs, in a class-action lawsuit against the company that sold the defective turf, could proceed with their claims against Montreal-based FieldTurf, denying the company’s motion to dismiss.

Last week, superintendents of Wantagh and Seaford school districts told the Herald that there were no issues with the artificial turf fields they purchased from FieldTurf, except what could be expected with age. The fields were installed at the high schools in 2008 and 2009, respectively, and, according to both superintendents have normal wear and tear.

However, both fields are dotted with bald, black spots where the synthetic turf fibers have prematurely deteriorated and broken off.

The Herald reported last week that the new artificial-turf fields from FieldTurf , sold between 2006-2012, were made of Duraspine fibers that were meant to last up to 15 years. They were supposed to significantly reduce the cost of field maintenance — virtually paying for themselves after just a few years, according to FieldTurf’s marketing campaigns.

But, in dozens of cases, the grass quickly faded, flattened or tore out entirely, causing shedding and bald spots. And some artificial-turf fields on which student-athletes play football, soccer or lacrosse have failed industry tests that measure strength and cushioning against falls, according to published reports and court documents. In some cases, safety concerns over the fields forced districts to shell out more public money to repair or replace them.

Google Earth images indicate that bald patches have appeared after just four or five years of use in many cases.

The saga of the artificial turf fields at Levittown and nearby Island Trees goes back to April 2016, when a network television station ran a short segment on the defective turf sold by FieldTurf. For the story, the station hired a California-based consultant to examine the fields at Levittown and Island Trees, both of which contained Duraspine.

The consultant said at the time that in both cases, fibers had frayed, broken down into smaller fibers and could not withstand normal wear and tear, and that all of Levittown’s MacArthur High School field failed testing. Also, according to the CBS report, the Island Trees High School field was in such poor condition, it needed replacement.

Island Trees Superintendent Charles Murphy recently provided the Herald with the GMAX test results of its high school field for the past five years, which indicted that the turf was not underperforming.

But those GMAX tests, which evaluate a playing surface’s ability to absorb impact, were performed by Amityville-based Landtek — the same company that installed the new turf field there. Landtek performed the installation of artificial turf in most of the other fields on Long Island.

Industry standards recommend that an independent third party perform the tests on artificial turf.

This week, Murphy said that the District had the field tested again by an independent tester after the CBS news report and “all was fine.”

“This upcoming Spring, the athletic field will be nine years old and is used morning, noon and night by our school community,” Murphy said. “There are some districts who do not allow their community to use the field outside of high school athletics. We do. I imagine this use has contributed to what you plan on reporting.”

He added that, in summary, “I believe we’ll have many more years of use before the field needs to be replaced.”

Levittown School District officials also released copies of its GMAX test results to the Herald, from the one year in which they were done: 2011. Since the artificial turf was installed at both its high schools in August 2008, the fields have only been tested once. Industry experts recommend testing at least every two years to ensure optimal performance. Calls to the current Levittown superintendent about this had not been returned by the time the Herald went to press on Monday.

Levittown School’s Board of Education voted at its July 2016 meeting to retain a law firm, and join the class action suit against FieldTurf and its affiliates.

According to the attorney representing Levittown, the decision came after unsuccessful attempts to have the fields replaced under the eight-year warranty that came with the Duraspine turf. It was unclear why FieldTurf did not honor the warranty.

Lawyers for the district said in court papers that it would take about $2 million to replace both school fields. Records from Levittown school board meetings show that district officials plan to use money from its capital reserve fund, and hopefully recoup it from the legal action.

A proposition on the ballot in Levittown in 2017 asked voters to approve using up to $14.5 million of the remaining 2013 capital reserve funds for projects that include replacing the turf fields at the Division Avenue High School and General Douglas MacArthur High School. The proposition passed 1542-578.

FieldTurf officials acknowledged that the Duraspine fibers were defective when the company sued its Duraspine supplier in 2011.

Fieldturf’s attorneys alleged in court documents in that suit that the supplier stopped supplying the same fiber [they contracted for], and instead supplied a less expensive, less durable fiber — and improperly stabilized the fiber — “increasing the likelihood of premature fiber degradation.”

FieldTurf won a $30 million settlement midtrial from the supplier in 2014, according to published reports. The company continued selling Duraspine turf to Long Island schools through 2012, records show.

Meanwhile, litigation against Fieldturf — from across the country — is proceeding.