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Community Eyes Turf Field At Chs

MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE -- Central School District will take a second look at whether to proceed with its planned 16th Street development, which entails athletic practice fields and a relocation of seve

MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE -- Central School District will take a second look at whether to proceed with its planned 16th Street development, which entails athletic practice fields and a relocation of several modular classrooms.

That's in response to community members who have approached officials about the overall cost and purpose of the project, and possibly using some of those earmarked funds to instead install artificial turf in the reconstructed Central High football stadium.

"I personally think it's a good idea," said Mike Ainsworth, who was involved with the bond project visioning process two years ago. "If it doesn't cost too much, we could put turf in and it would make for a gem of a facility."

Superintendent Joseph Hunter said the school board will have to review whether there's sufficient reason to change course from what was originally intended for the 40-acre 16th Street property.

"We also need to consult with legal counsel, to determine whether a change conflicts with what was promised to the community in the bond," he said.

About $1.6 million of the district's $47.3 million bond for Central High School's reconstruction was slated for redeveloping the district's 16th Street parcel.

In addition to building fields, the district would move portable classrooms from the high school to the site to serve as new homes for support programs that exist in the elementary and middle school buildings.

"This is space that could be recaptured for enrollment growth," Hunter said.

Under an original plan, the stadium was to be utilized for football games only, with practice fields used to shore up the lack of available practice space for high school and middle school sports.

Joe Penna, speaking on behalf of a citizen group lobbying and attempting to raise funds for an artificial turf field, said the rationale for an enhanced facility is durability -- it could be used for multiple sports, PE classes and other activities.

Penna said his group recently received estimates for a field at about $600,000. Much of that cost could be offset through savings on maintenance and watering, and by renting the field out, he said.

There was interest in artificial turf during the visioning of the new high school in 2008, though a poll commissioned by the district of residents showed the public didn't prefer turf at the expense of education-related improvements.

Hunter said an estimate from one contractor back then for artificial turf installation totaled $1.2 million.

To ensure the bond wouldn't raise property taxes, the school board in 2008 included language in the ballot measure that specifically excluded artificial turf.

As such, bond money can't be used for a new field, said John Hasbrook, district legal counsel.

Preparatory work for the practice fields that would also be necessary for an artificial turf field is a possibility, he added. Beyond that, only non-bond funds could be used.

At last week's school board meeting, Penna said his group would move forward with pursuing donations -- as long as the district was willing to support the effort.

Mike Maloney, the Central bond project manager, said a decision is needed by February to avoid affecting existing construction schedules.

"If their decision is for the artificial turf option, the earliest it could be installed is summer of 2011," he said. "Even if the money was in hand, it would be too hard to change gears now and have it done for fall 2010.

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