Living grass at Sainer Courtyard ripped out overnight for artificial turf
The Sainer Fine Arts Complex courtyard stripped of grass and leveled out. Photo by Veronica Jolley.

Living grass at Sainer Courtyard ripped out overnight for artificial turf

In an unexpected decision by New College President Richard Corcoran, the grass and other vegetation in the Mildred Sainer Fine Arts Complex courtyard was ripped out with no prior announcement and replaced with artificial turf. The quiet transformation of the space from its natural state to a synthetic one began in the span of a night, sparking concern among the community about a lack of transparency in the decision-making process. The process has also been reported as disruptive by students who spend their time on that part of campus. 

A Catalyst reporter reached out to Corcoran multiple times for comment on the courtyard and other areas that may potentially have grass replaced, but has received no response. 

The Catalyst did speak with thesis student Annie Dong, who studies Psychology and Art and has spent much of her time at the Sainer Fine Arts Complex. The work to install the turf began on April 17, just a day before the “Finding Vitality” Thesis Art Exhibition opening where art by Dong and two other thesis students, Lianna McDonald and Cindy Xin Zhang, would be presented to the public for viewing.  

Dong said she reached out to Corcoran about the installation of the turf interfering with the Art Exhibition opening, to which he replied that it would be cleaned up the day of. According to Dong and visitors present, it wasn’t. The work stopped and dust was swept aside, but the space once filled with living grass remained empty and required further work. Dong said Corcoran had been checking the space out since the beginning of the week the exhibition was set to take place. 

“So he knew that there was an opening reception show, but yet he decided to do it the day before,” she stated. 

“I talked to him [Corcoran] during the opening reception night of the art show and I asked him about the turf,” Dong said. “And he was very sorry about what’s going on out here. But then he told me the reason why he’s doing it is so he can bring back concerts, and also more student events and engagement at the courtyard here at Caples.” 

Dong explained that Corcoran claimed to notice that not many students spent time in the Caples courtyard, choosing to stay on the academic and housing sides of campus.  

“So his way is having turf so people can lay on the grass. That’s what he said,” Dong stated. “He’s noticed that a lot of students like laying on the turf in front of the library, so he’s hoping more students come here to do that.”

Notably, the President’s Office failed to send out any form of communication to gauge student interest. 

“He didn’t even tell any of the art department or anyone here that he was going to do this,” Dong said. “It was just like one of those things where we came here in the morning and we saw them ripping out a lot of plants and then tearing apart the grass the day before the art reception.”

“Before they started doing this, around the pillars it would be filled with a bunch of beautiful butterflies. Lots of milkweeds and a lot of native plants—it was beautiful,” Dong recounted. 

The area once produced an abundance of monarchs, and Dong described being able to walk in the area and seeing nothing but them flying around. 

“It’s one of the things I loved looking at. I would take videos all the time when I saw one,” Dong said. “And now it’s just not there anymore.”

The milkweed that surrounded the center was likely the reason so many monarchs floated around. Not only is milkweed a great nectar source for thirsty pollinators, it is also the only host plant that monarch butterflies lay their eggs on. With little to no milkweed left, pollinators are less plentiful. Originally, the courtyard required walkers to step down into the area. In order to install the turf the ground has been leveled with cement, eliminating any chance of the natural landscape ever growing back.  

Caples courtyard being cleaned up before turf. Photo by Veronica Jolley. 

Many artificial turf fields contain infill made from waste tires, often referred to as tire crumb. Tire crumb contains a large number of chemicals, many of which are used intentionally in the manufacturing process, while others adhere to tires when they are out on the road. Some are known or suspected carcinogens—arsenic, cadmium, benzene, styrene—and some are associated with other human health effects. Recent research has also identified per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in some artificial turf carpet materials. PFAS are a group of chemicals often referred to as “forever chemicals” because they are highly persistent in the environment; some can last for hundreds of years. Health issues documented for some PFAS include effects on the endocrine system, including liver and thyroid, as well as metabolic effects, developmental effects, neurotoxicity and immunotoxicity. Artificial turf can also become much hotter than natural grass on a warm, sunny day. The turf will be going into an area that was reported by students to reach high heat temperatures. 

“We use the courtyard as a sort of backstage for our semesterly Dance Collective showcases,” thesis student and Catalyst Editor in Chief Gabriella Batista told a reporter. “It’s a space that already receives lots of direct sunlight. The addition of turf will only make the space harder to exist within without literally baking from the inside out.”

According to Dong, the Sainer Fine Arts Complex building has its own myriad issues that have yet to be fixed by administration. For a good portion of the semester, students have had to work and learn in 40°F studios, bundling up with beanies and hoodies. Because of the cold, the doors had to be propped open, allowing the sound of turf installation to filter in during lectures. 

“When we prop open the door, it’s loud. There’s banging sounds and we can’t focus,” Dong explained. “So not only is it distracting our academics, but the building itself makes it hard to focus.”

The indoor cold front is due to a faulty boiler, a result of it not receiving enough power to run properly. Dong explained that power from Sainer is being redirected to the newly opened historic Caples Mansion. Because of this the boiler, which was already leaking, needs to remain in a cold environment to keep semi-functioning. 

Dong said the administration won’t fix the issues until the Fall 2024 semester begins or possibly over the summer. There is also a chance the building may stop producing AC by the end of the semester, something that won’t be resolved until next fall. 

“It’s crazy because they’re spending so much money on doing all this and that, but we are having mold issues inside the studio spaces and there’s stuff that can be fixed with the roofs, better equipment, rather than this,” Dong said. 

According to Dong, Assistant in Humanities and Studio Technician Dan Bethune has put in work requests. Despite changes to the area, there’s still a leaking issue. 

In the painting studio, one particular area has been unkempt for at least a year. Photo by Veronica Jolley.  

“Before when it rained it literally just poured. We had to have trash cans here,” Dong said. “But they said they, quote, ‘fixed it.’ but I don’t know if they fully did.

“We would talk to the landscape committee, but there’s issues here that we did bring up to people and they just didn’t really talk about,” she continued. “They never do anything about it.”

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