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Students in surface paradise29/04/2010
Elisabeth Tarica - The Age
Victoria's schoolyards, grassless and hard baked after years of drought, are being swept by a green revolution. Artificial turf is becoming as standard in schools as library books and whiteboards, with some spending up to $1 million to transform their grounds.
For many schools, particularly those in the country, the contrast has been stark.
Castlemaine Primary School principal, Peter McConnell says the swathe of synthetic green added to his school has boosted morale.
The school spent about $90,000 on artificial turf for its oval - money well spent, he says, as the students now 'give it a hiding' year-round.
Mr McConnell says artificial grass has been an unavoidable solution for drought-stricken rural schools wanting to get around water restrictions.
'A lot of the country schools have been on pretty severe water restrictions for many years and our school ovals were unsafe for playing on, and tended to be dry and dusty in the summer or huge slabs of mud in the winter' he says.
'Now we can have a safe, consistent surface for the children to play on, and just this week we were talking about selling our ride on mower because it has been sitting there gathering dust'.
Safety is also an issue for many inner-city schools, which are covering unforgiving asphalt with fake grass to provide softer, safer play areas.
'We haven't got a blade of grass in this school' says St Margaret Mary's Primary School's retiring principal, Bev Jerrems, who won't be around to see the Brunswick school's asphalt area transformed this term. She says the $70,000 project will be the 'icing on the cake' for the school's 160 students, who will be able to play on new netball, basketball and tennis courts.
'So many other schools have it' says Mrs Jerrems, 'and it will help our kids to be more motivated to get out there - particularly those reluctant ones who don't really enjoy physical activity'.
'Ten years ago, synthetic grass occupied a niche market, with most used on small sporting surfaces, such as tennis courts. Now, school makeovers represent a large chunk of the estimated $300 million industry.
The national marketing manager at TigerTurf, Jo Prothero, say the school market grew 40% last year, with the company installing synthetic grass at more than 150 Victorian schools due to the Building the Education Revolution iniatitive.
'It has been one our largest client bases' she says. 'Victoria is way ahead of other states in regards to upgrading asphalt and concrete playgrounds to synthetics'
Miss Prothero says most projects cost $30,000 to $150,000m with the artificial surfaces rolled out on ovals to expected to last 12-14 years. Often, the centrepiece of these makeovers are large ovals complete with multi-purpose sporting fields, running tracks, long-jump facilities and even hopscotch markings.
'But then you have the bigger projects, that can be in excess of $500,000, while others are touching the million mark' she says.
The surfaces can be customised to include a range of markings. 'We have carried out all sorts of different designs like a world map, Snakes & Ladders' she says.
'There is lots of colour, it's attractive and we constantly get feedback from teachers and principals that kids want to go out and play at lunch time rather than being shoe-horned out of the door'.
The use of cushioned material underneath the playground areas has led to a decreased in injuries' she says.
At Monmia Primary School, in Keilor Downs, students now flock to the oval to play football, soccer or to jog around the tracks. Some just sit and talk. Principal Lorraine Beel says the school spent $400,000 on a series of artificial ovals three years ago to create a multi-purpose sports ground for it's 477 students.
The layout includes a mini football ground, a soccer pitch, basketball and netball courts, a two lane running track and a sandpit for long jump, and markings for games such as handball, rounders, softball and bat tennis. The ovals are hired out after hours to local sports clubs. 'It is large enough for all the children to be out there and play their various games - and for our community it has been fantasic' Mrs Bells says. 'Around our area there aren't many park facilities that are green, and now the children can play and have fun in a healthy outdoors way'.
Ivanhoe Grammar School last week opened what could be describe as the Rolls Royce of artificial ovals.
Principal Rod Fraser says the $1 million project replaced one of the school's natural ovals that had become hard, dry and dangerous.
The school's 600 students will be able to play hockey, soccer, basketball, netball, volleyball, four square, softball and train on an eight lane, 80 metre running track.
But it is the water saving solution incorporated in its new sports facility that sets it apart. Beneath the oval is a one-megalitre resevoir that required extensive earthworks and excavation.
Mr Fraser says it will help sustain the school's other ovals and garden beds. 'We are certainly not yet drougt-proof but we are a long way down the track, providing it rains, to be self-sufficient in water on this campus'.
He says this newer, softer version of synthetic grass is a far cry from the style of fake grass many remember.
'The quality is such one could put down a surface like this with a degree of confidence that it's not going to result in the sorts of burns that were experienced from the old-stlye synthetic surfaces around a decade ago.'
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