When it’s built in 2024, the new athletic field behind L.J. Hauser Junior High School in Riverside will be a natural grass field.

In the end, fitting in with the village in the forest ethos of Riverside seemed to be the determining factor in the District 96 school board choosing natural grass over artificial turf for the field. 

“I think we need to live within the culture and climate of our community,” said school board member Lynda Murphy, who said she had gone back and forth between natural grass and artificial turf over the past two years and was surprised that she ended up favoring natural grass.

Murphy said she worried choosing artificial turf could delay the completion of the project because of opposition from some community members or the village of Riverside.

“I just want to get this project done, because I think it is a huge value add,” Murphy said. 

Board member Shari Klyber also said natural grass seemed to be the right choice, adding that she supports the use of natural materials whenever possible.

“It’s an opportunity to show leadership,” Klyber said.

Some school board members visited newer well-draining natural grass athletic fields in River Forest and Schaumburg, which increased their comfort level with choosing natural grass. 

The biggest concern about grass fields is that they can become muddy and unusable after heavy or sustained rainfall. Artificial turf fields stand up to rain much better. Physical education teachers at Hauser favored an artificial turf field because it can be used more often than a grass field. 

But after talking with officials in River Forest and Schaumburg, school board members felt that a well-designed natural grass field would work for the Hauser/Central campus.

“I feel convinced that the natural grass is going to be useable enough,” said school board member Wesley Muirheid.

The approximately 40,000-square-foot new field is expected to drain much better than the current grass field at Hauser, which is frequently unusable.

“I think that the sacrifice of some amount of playing time on a natural grass field is worthwhile and valuable, and I think that with good design, which our design crew knows how to do, this can be a high-quality field that the kids can be use a lot,” said Joel Marhoul who chairs the school board’s facilities committee.

Marhoul, who is also a member of the Riverside Planning and Zoning Commission, noted that the installing an artificial turf field would require more permeable pavers in the parking lot near the field. He liked that a grass field drains naturally.

“It is a goal of the village to reduce the amount of runoff in [the sewer system],” Marhoul said.

School board President Dan Hunt went along with the board consensus in favor of a grass field, although he did say that he was concerned about how a grass field would hold up in the long run.

The cost of a grass field versus an artificial turf field balances out in the long run. Although a grass field is approximately $800,000 cheaper to install than an artificial turf field, it also requires about $50,000 more in annual maintenance than an artificial turf field.