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FieldTurf USA has been busy replacing and repairing more ragged fields in the San Diego Unified School District in recent months, just three to five years after the fields were installed, newly released emails show.

FieldTurf replaced Madison High School’s turf field free of charge in June, and dumped loads of glue onto the fields at University City High, San Diego High and Morse High earlier this year to try to make them stronger and shed less fake grass. Edison Elementary’s field is scheduled to get the glue treatment this fall, district officials said.

Most of the fields were highlighted in Voice of San Diego’s series on FieldTurf’s failing artificial turf fields in the region. The fields at San Diego High, Morse High and Edison Elementary were already replaced for free under warranty with supposedly better turf, and all three are again experiencing problems. Madison High’s $590,000 turf field looked particularly tired after only five years.

Madison HS Turf Field November 2016

According to district emails — produced 198 days after they were requested under the California Public Records Act — Madison High received a “no cost” field replacement on June 26, a May 17 email from FieldTurf salesman Tim Coury said. The replacement was discussed at least as far back as January, another district email shows.

A March 24 email written by a FieldTurf customer service representative described the Morse High work as a “Field Refurbishing,” while San Diego High’s field repairs were described by a FieldTurf salesman in February as “remediation/ field makeover.”

As we reported last year, San Diego and Morse high schools saw their 2009 fields fall apart by 2014, even though the fields — which cost $607,000 and $449,000, respectively — were guaranteed to last eight years under warranty with normal use. Edison Elementary’s 2006 field was also replaced for free in 2012.

“The carpet this field was made with in 2009 is defective and has deteriorated to the point where it needs to be replaced,” said district emails sent in 2014 to officials at Morse High, San Diego High and Mira Mesa High, which also got a free field replacement.

Problems Near and Far

Customers across the U.S. that purchased so-called top of the line FieldTurf fields have seen the fields quickly fall apart. Some received a line of FieldTurf turf called Duraspine that was known to be defective. Instead of withstanding a beating from athletes and the sun for eight years or more, the blades quickly become brittle and shed.

Other lines of FieldTurf turf — sometimes sold as premium “upgrades” to schools experiencing Duraspine failures — have also seen grass blades fall out easily. FieldTurf begun dumping 1,000 gallons of glue on those fields in recent years to make them stronger. Serra High, Patrick Henry High and Clairemont High had the glue treatment in 2015, district officials confirmed. Morse High, San Diego High and University City High got glued this year. Edison Elementary is next.

During the so-called “slip lock” glue treatment, rubber pellets that serve as infill cushioning between blades of fake grass are sucked up so gallons of glue can be poured on top of the surface, before the infill is put back. FieldTurf officials say the glue is safe.

Despite the problems, FieldTurf is still the only turf installed at schools districtwide.

From 2006 to 2016, San Diego Unified School District paid FieldTurf USA more than $15 million using Proposition S and Z bond dollars, district records show.

San Diego Unified spokeswoman Maureen Magee said in an email district officials are still satisfied with FieldTurf’s products.

“The district is generally satisfied with field installations, but we understand that FT (FieldTurf) had manufacturing issues with a particular product line,” Magee wrote. “FT was proactive in notifying the district of the manufacturing problem. FT replaced or repaired the fields, honoring their product warranty at no cost to the district.”

The company “has and will continue to stand behind its products and its customers,” FieldTurf officials said in a statement. “The problem impacting fields with Duraspine fiber in high UV environments is not a new issue and it has not impacted safety – only how a field looks over time. Furthermore, we have phased out this product and now make our own fiber. Our policy has always been and will continue to be to work with customers to resolve any issues.”

District emails also show local FieldTurf salesman Tim Coury is still on the job after being investigated for a December 2009 email unearthed by Voice of San Diego.

In the email, Coury wrote to an Oceanside school employee “to push for FieldTurf,” and said, “maybe we can both make some $ if you can help me ‘close the deal’ !!”

“We engaged outside counsel to perform a thorough internal investigation of this matter, and Tim fully cooperated in the investigation,” Fieldturf officials said in a statement. “Following the conclusion of this process, Tim remains on our team and has our full support.”

Coury did not respond to emailed requests for comment this week.

Litigation Elsewhere

FieldTurf is still battling a series of lawsuits by customers — many public agencies — that allege the company committed fraud by selling a line of artificial turf known to be defective, and then did not fulfill the terms of the warranty when it fell apart prematurely.

Earlier this year, FieldTurf hired attorney Theodore Wells Jr., the same man who investigated New England Patriot Tom Brady in the NFL’s “Deflategate” probe, according to reporters with NJ Advance Media who have been following FieldTurf’s troubles nationally. The news agency also reported back in January that FieldTurf CEO Eric Daliere was questioned by members of the New Jersey Senate Commerce Committee, who pressed him to explain why the company did not notify customers of its turf problems when they became apparent.

Last month, a civil jury in Comal County, Texas, found FieldTurf USA breached the terms of its eight-year turf warranty with the New Braunfels Independent School District, but said the company did not commit fraud. That case was filed back in 2014. FieldTurf must pay the district $251,000, according to the attorney for the district.

“We are pleased that a jury of local independent citizens agreed that FieldTurf did not commit fraud. We have always been confident in our case and believed the lawsuit was without merit. As this situation demonstrates, we will defend ourselves against baseless accusations,” FieldTurf officials said in a statement. “We tried for many years to work with the district to find a solution outside of the courts.”

No school districts in San Diego County have sued FieldTurf so far, despite seeing many of the same problems. Here’s the map of all FieldTurf fields and costs in San Diego County Voice of San Diego could document last year.

Ashly McGlone

Ashly is a freelance investigative reporter. She formerly worked as a staff reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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