INDEPENDENCE -- When Panther Stadium hosts its first football game next fall, Central High School's coaching staff won't have to lose sleep worrying about the field's condition for the next game.
The Central School Board unanimously approved on Feb. 8 the installation of artificial turf at the facility, following several months of lobbying by a group of community proponents for the project.
The contingent had pushed for artificial turf, while asking the school board to halt a planned development on 16th Street that entailed two practice fields and modular offices for support staff.
Reasons included the overall cost of the $1.6 million off-campus project and that turf would allow for year-round use of the stadium.
"For anyone who has lingering doubts, I think those will disappear quickly once the turf is in place and they see kids out there all the time," said Kathleen Stanley, one of the advocates.
Mike Maloney, Central's bond project manager, said the district will open bids for artificial turf construction in March and try to have a contract in place by April.
"We'll have to get under way building by at least early May in order to have the thing done by mid-August," Maloney said.
"We'll be putting up construction fencing, literally, the day after the track and field season ends."
Maloney said installing artificial turf will cost about $1 million -- with $600,000 for the turf itself and the balance for grading and storm water drainage work.
Maloney said to avoid tapping the district general fund, officials will use:
* $230,000 that's legally allowed from the high school reconstruction bond.
* $100,000 in excise taxes that are to be received in the next two fiscal years.
* $100,000 in donations that artificial turf supporters have raised.
* And a combined $519,000 in special grants the state will award to the district because of the extra enrollment capacity that's been created from the high school reconstruction and last year's expansion of Talmadge Middle School.
Funds left over from 16th Street not going to turf -- about $150,000 -- will be spent on energy-saving enhancements to heating and air conditioning systems at the middle and elementary schools.
There is some consequence to the board's decision to install turf. For the district to finance the project, it had to obligate its $200,000 state facility grant it would have received in the 2011-12 fiscal cycle.
Those additional funds could have been used for heating and air-conditioning upgrades, maintenance or land acquisition, Superintendent Joseph Hunter said.
But support has been widespread, with the selling points being the ability to regularly use the field throughout a school year for physical education classes and for other sports, such as soccer.
Previous plans had the stadium field reserved almost solely for varsity football games.
Dozens of Central High athletes attended last week's school board meeting. They erupted into cheers when the turf was given the OK.
Solomon Falcon, a varsity soccer player, said most state playoff games are played on artificial turf; being able to practice on the surface would give his team an advantage.
"Our grass fields, there are uneven spots and holes in them," Falcon said. "And because it's open to the community, people bring their dogs there ... and they do what they do."
The turf "is a great thing," he continued. "Not just for us this season, but for the people coming up behind us."
* Central School Board voted 6-0 on Feb. 8 to have artificial turf installed on the playing field at Central High's Panther Stadium.
* Officials will submit the project for bids by mid-March, as part of the regulations for public construction.
* A contract will likely be approved by early April.
* Construction will begin after track and field season ends in May.
* The field will be installed and ready for use before the start of the 2010-11 school year.
* The first Panther home football game is tentatively scheduled against Sisters on Friday, Sept. 3.