Come next fall the Shuey Stadium field at Riverside-Brookfield High School will have a new playing surface and a new track. The RB football and soccer teams will be playing on the same surface as the Indianapolis Colts, St. Louis Rams, University of Michigan and Northwestern University. That surface is called FieldTurf, a synthetic surface that claims to be as soft as grass with much greater durability.

FieldTurf is made of synthetic fibers that are sunk into a patented infill made of sand and ground-up rubber that offers superior surface stability and shock absorption, according to the FieldTurf web site.

Lyons Township High School installed a FieldTurf field two years ago and other area high schools with such fields include Elmwood Park, Libertyville, Wheaton-Warrenville South and both Lincoln-Way East and Central high schools.

Early synthetic fields were known for their hard surfaces, and many believed their lack of “give” contributed to knee injuries and abrasions. But FieldTurf is different, say its proponents.

“The original Astroturf fields were like carpet on concrete,” said Otto Zeman, RB’s athletic director and football coach. “This is very different. It is really going to be a safe surface.”

Although the new field and track will cost just under $1 million to install, RB officials say they expect to save money over the long run because of reduced maintenance costs and greater use. With the current grass field, the only time the football team would practice in the stadium was the day before a game and the field would only be used for games.

“If you project the costs over a 20-year period, it will save us money,” said Zeman.

The new field will be able to be used much more intensely than the old field. It will be used for daily practices as well as games. In addition, the field can now also be used for physical education classes. That was an important consideration for school officials.

“Being in a land-locked situation, we can use it for practices, PE classes and other activities,” said RB Superintendent/Principal Jack Baldermann.

The additional use will be especially vital in the next two years as the Brookfield Zoo-owned athletic fields to the north of the school are expected to be used as staging areas for construction work on the $58.8 million addition and renovation project begins.

The contract was awarded to JEM Morris, an excavation company.

Work will not start until permits are obtained from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and should take six weeks to complete. The reason for the permits, according to William McCloskey, who chairs the school board’s Facilities Committee, is that adding a synthetic turf raises storm drainage issues.

“There are a series of pipes that the water drains into, so there’s additional water that goes into the [sewer] system that didn’t used to,” McCloskey said. “They just need to review that.”

McCloskey was unsure just how soon the MWRD would give its blessing, but hoped it could be some time in the next week.

“If we get it in the next week, I’m confident the field will be ready for the first game of the year,” McCloskey said.

That first football game of the 2006 season is scheduled for Aug. 25 against central Illinois power Metamora. If for some reason the field isn’t ready, the game will have to played at Metamora, and RB would lose one of its four home games scheduled for the coming season.

The new football field will also be physically moved some six feet during the process in order to center the field in the stadium and address some safety issues regarding the current placement of the long jump and high jump pits.

“It’s kind of dangerous,” said McCloskey. “The concrete runway for the long jump is close to being on the field. This was a time to get everything right.”

In addition to the football field, the track will be entirely replaced with a new six-lane track. According to McCloskey, the work will be done the same time the football field is being completed. The new surface will consist of compressed asphalt topped by a rubberized surface that’s “similar but better to what we have now,” said McCloskey.

Bob Uphues contributed to this report.