ATLANTA - All across Georgia, athletic directors and coaches saw something strange going on with their FieldTurf artificial football fields.
“It would be like you walked through freshly mowed lawns. You’d have fibers all over you shoes,” says Carrollton High School Athletic Director David Brooks.
Grass-like fibers were cracking apart, breaking off, and leaving black gaps in the field.
In Camden County, athletic director Gary Blount said it was a safety issue for his players: “They could fall on it, slide, and it was giving them burns.”
A FOX 5 I-Team investigation found during the past six years, at least 10 FieldTurf fields at high schools across Georgia failed. At a couple of schools, administrators had to battle with FieldTurf to replace the fields. In most cases taxpayers spent additional money to replace fields still under warranty.
FieldTurf is the global leader in the turf industry with 7,000 fields installed across America including the Georgia Dome. FieldTurf now manufactures its own turf right here in Georgia.
In a federal lawsuit, the FieldTurf CEO admitted he knew he had a problem in late 2009. Two years later, FieldTurf filed a 30 million dollar "breach of contract" lawsuit against the supplier of its turf fibers.
FieldTurf accused TenCate of selling them "defective" fibers. TenCate denied it. The suit was settled, but the settlement agreement is secret.
FieldTurf now makes its own fibers and says they've had no problems with them. But the old fields continue to cause problems across the country.
In 2009, Camden County Athletic Director Gary Blount told us his concern was the injuries.
“When a football player plants his foot and starts to turn, if that foot slides, you’re going to have injuries,” Blount said, “We became very concerned with that.”
Blount says it took nearly two years and the threat of legal action to get FieldTurf to replace the field.
In Carrollton, the athletic department saw problems with its new field in 2012 and called FieldTurf.
Principal David Brooks says FieldTurf told him his problem could be maintenance. He says FieldTurf never mentioned its defective fibers lawsuit filed the year before.
“It would have been nice if they said we’re having problems, here is what well do for you, let’s get it done,” says Brooks.
Brooks says it took some two years to get the field replaced. FieldTurf offered a choice: replace the field for free with the same failing fibers or pay an extra $175,000 in taxpayer money for an upgrade and a new warranty. Carrollton reluctantly paid for the upgrade.
“We'd rather not be spending it (tax dollars) on replacing fields,” said Brooks.
Carrollton's not the only school to pay for that upgrade. Out of the 10 failing fields, at least five schools decided against the free replacement and paid for an upgrade. Total cost: $750,000.
FieldTurf wrote us to say the field failures have never "impacted safety" and they have always honored "their warranties."
FieldTurf says field failures have only been in "eight percent of all fields globally" and that nearly every field in Georgia "has been replaced or upgraded"
One of those schools could be in Douglas County.
FieldTurf was the artificial turf chosen at New Manchester High School in August 2010. The turf was put down just months before FieldTurf filed that “defective fiber” lawsuit.
Was it holding up? We examined the field and saw fibers cracking and breaking off, just like other schools had described to us.
We took our findings to Assistant Superintendent Dr. Tim Scott. At first, he told us the field was fine. Later, he admitted after talking with FieldTurf, he realized he had a failing field.
"Aesthetically failing,” said Dr. Scott, “As far as safety its fine.”
Dr. Scott says the county plans on paying an additional $175,000 for an upgrade and a new eight year warranty.The Douglas County Board of Education must approve that decision.
Earlier, the I-Team reported that the Douglas County Board of Education rejected a low bidder who could have saved them $860,000 to install four new FieldTurf artificial fields. FieldTurf says those fields were made with new and better fibers.