Replacing a natural field with an artificial turf can offer a plethora of benefits to a school, including lowering water usage, decreasing maintenance needs, and providing a high quality and aesthetically appealing field for years to come. Most artificial turf companies offer to remove and dispose of the existing field, provide maintenance instructions, and even offer a limited warranty for their product. These turf companies, however, typically insist on the school using their form contract and warranty for the field installation. Schools should therefore be aware of and negotiate, as necessary, the contract terms and warranty provisions and limitations before awarding a contract to a field replacement company.
Schools are in control when it comes to contract and warranty negotiations despite the preset form documents provided by the turf company. The school should raise any concerns with the turf company if the school does not agree with a certain provision, or wants additional protections inserted in the documents, prior to signing the contract. The following are some key points schools should consider, and if necessary negotiate, when entering into an artificial turf installation contract
Maintenance – Most turf companies will offer a multi-year maintenance program to treat and care for the field. The school, however, will still likely need to conduct regular maintenance as set forth in the turf company's guidelines. Failure to follow these guidelines could void the warranty. Schools must know, understand, and agree to all of these maintenance guidelines and requirements prior to executing the contract. The contract should reflect that the turf company will train the school's maintenance crew to ensure they are properly maintaining and grooming the field. The turf company should also approve of any equipment the school will use to maintain, sweep or groom the field. Many turf companies will agree to provide preferred sweeper or groomer equipment at little or no additional charge. The school should also pay special attention to field protection requirements and guidelines regarding driving vehicles on the fields or special events, such as graduations. Most turf companies offer a customer service representative who will guide the school on how to hold special events without voiding the warranty. The school should know and agree with the basic requirements for special events and expected customer service before signing the contract.
Installation of Field – The turf company may not be the actual entity on the school's site and installing the field. The school should therefore know and approve of the companies or subcontractors who will be on site performing the actual installation. Additionally, if students are present the school must either obtain the appropriate fingerprinting clearances for the contractors or set up appropriate barriers or surveillance to ensure the safety of the students. The school must also establish appropriate site security to protect the field during installation and provide assurances that no one will use the field until the installation is complete.
Contract Terms – Basic artificial turf installation contract terms are similar to a vendor or independent contractor agreement. The school should ensure the turf company properly indemnifies it for any non-school caused problems during the installation and turf company provided maintenance of the field. Additionally the turf company's insurance policy should name the school as an additional insured for the initial installation and all future maintenance, repair, or replacement visits. The school should also determine if it wants to include an arbitration or mediation provision in case of disputes or problems. Importantly, the contract should clearly state that the contract, and any dispute arising out of the contract, are governed by the laws of the state where the school and the field are located. Many turf companies are international and may want another state's laws to govern the contract. The school should not agree that the contract is governed by out-of-state laws unless it, or its counsel, is familiar with the laws of that state.
Close-out Documentation – Upon completion of the field's installation, the school should ensure that it receives all appropriate documentation before permitting use of the field. The documents to get by close-out of the field installation include the following:
- Certificate of completion signed by the turf company;
- All field layout, plans and specifications, and as-builts for the field;
- Maintenance guidelines;
- Manuals on equipment for the field;
- Insurance certificates naming the school as an additional insured; and
- Signed and finalized warranty without "sample" watermarked across each page.
The contract sets forth the main terms and conditions between the turf company and the school. The accompanying warranty can be just as important in case a problem arises during the expected useful life of the field. Turf companies may be less inclined to negotiate the terms of the form warranty to avoid having different requirements for different customers. Schools, however, are within their right to ask for changes which will help clarify the provisions, protect the school, and ensure that if the field fails, the turf company will repair or replace it at no additional cost. The school should discuss and modify the following key warranty provisions as necessary:
Maintenance – The warranty should clarify that the school's staff is permitted to maintain the field after appropriate field maintenance training by the turf company. Failure to properly maintain the field could void the warranty. The school should keep a maintenance log to prove to the turf company, if necessary, that it properly maintained the field.
Use of the Field – Most warranties set forth the purpose of the field. Schools should not limit permitted uses of the field by stating it will be used for only soccer or football. Such limitations provide the turf company an argument that the warranty is void if the school permits other sports, such as baseball or lacrosse, or a non-sports event to take place on the turf. The warranty should state the field's use as "multi-sport use" to remove this risk. Additionally, the school should obtain authorization and guidance from the turf company prior to special events to ensure that use does not void warranty.
Many warranties contain limits on the field's usage hours per year. Turf companies often require schools to keep usage logs to ensure the field's use is below that annual permitted amount. Schools should ensure their expected use of the field will not exceed the limitations set forth in the warranty. Schools can also void the warranty by using certain areas of the field, such as goal areas and sidelines, repetitively. To avoid excessive wear staff should rotate practices and drills to different areas of the field.
Flat-Soled Shoes – Warranties often exclude any damage caused by individuals wearing flat-soled shoes. Realistically the field will often be used by individuals wearing flat-soled shoes. In fact, when the turf company representatives come to visit the field for meetings, inspections, or maintenance, they will likely be wearing flat-soled shoes on the turf. The point of this warranty provision is to deter certain groups, such as marching bands, from marching in the same spots wearing flat-soled shoes. This can prematurely wear those areas of the field. The warranty should be clarified to set forth that which specific flat-soled shoe activities, such as repetitive marching by a band, are not covered by the warranty.
Cleaning Agents – Finally the warranty should list the appropriate and approved cleaning agents and chemicals which the school can use to maintain and clean the field. Most warranties simply state that use of "non-approved" cleaning agents and chemicals will void the warranty. Schools should turn the provision around to either state which cleaning agents and chemicals can be used, or that the school's use of "approved" cleaning agents and chemicals will not void the warranty. The school should obtain an approved list of these cleaning agents and chemicals, signed by the turf company, if not directly listed in the warranty.
Installing an artificial turf is a major decision and the school should ensure it approves of and agrees with all of the contractual and warranty terms before signing the contract. Schools are not handcuffed to the form contract and warranty provided by the artificial turf company. Schools should feel free to negotiate those terms and conditions to provide all adequate protections, fit the school's needs, and ensure the field will perform at its expected high quality throughout the term of the warranty.