Back campus in centre of turf war LOU DOYON
Plans to tear up the historic back campus behind University College are proceeding as something of a ‘fait accompli,’ despite calls for a re-evaluation of the project by various groups and many students on campus. Although calls for some kind of change to the field is not new, owing to the ankle-twisting irregularity of the treacherous pitch, the governing council decision to build an astroturf field hockey venue in time for the Pan Am games is being met with coarse discontent across campus.

Of even greater concern for some is the precise details of the new pitch and the curious circumstances under which it was approved. U of T Professor Emeritus, Michael Bliss, wrote an op-ed in yesterday’s Globe and Mail lambasting the project: “The lure of easy money backed by the lobbying of a special interest group is proving irresistible.” Bliss also argues that certain groups have been lobbying for the destruction of the field for years, but only now, with the Pan Am administration’s willingness to pick up 56 per cent of the construction tab, has the project been approved.

Citing it as a loss of green space, opponents are seeking a motion to re-examine the $9.5 million Astroturf project. A growing collection of nearly 1200 signatures in support of the motion is putting pressure on the U of T administration to reconsider their plans.

The efforts to curb the deal, spearheaded by English professor Alan Ackerman, hope to move the site of the required pitch to another location in the city. Ackerman suggests Downsview Park. He claims that a field hockey pitch on campus “won’t be of much use to most U of T students.” Ackerman is hoping to further challenge funding sources for the project and propose an alternative soccer pitch that will maintain the venue’s grassy roots.

In addition to the loss of green space, Ackerman and others at UC are concerned by the health and environmental risks posed by Astroturf. These include chemicals that rise into the air from the artificial surface in the sun as well as the damaging effect these chemicals can pose to the ground beneath.

Furthermore, whereas natural grass ventilates and hydrates the soil beneath, Astroturf essentially starves the soil and even allows the aforementioned chemicals to possibly seep into groundwater.

The Synthetic Turf Council, which is an industry body in the U.S., claims that the artificial surface is not damaging to the environment. Despite calls for the preservation of storied green space on campus, few debate the need to reshape the back field. Strewn with mud holes and uneven ground, a meaningful restoration project is indeed a necessity. Ackerman agrees that the field can be somewhat treacherous and muddy during the rainy seasons, but claims that “students have played many sports on muddy fields for centuries and had lots of fun.”

Construction is set to begin in July.

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