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Mt. Lebanon pushed to put turf on field

| Wednesday, July 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Representatives of Mt. Lebanon sports groups continue to press the municipality to add artificial turf to a local playing field, eyeing a large chunk of the budget surplus that other residents want the commission to spend on public safety.

Eight of the 13 residents who spoke during a public hearing on Monday on how the commission should spend the $830,000 surplus from 2012 urged the municipality to put about $700,000 toward athletic field improvements.

They said existing grass fields are overscheduled, overused and take too long to dry out after showers because of the rising number of youth sports participants in Mt. Lebanon.

Those opposed to putting turf on more fields noted other upgrades they thought would make better use of the money, such as flood control or sidewalks in residential neighborhoods.

“I want to specifically request that you put sidewalks on this list (of potential projects),” said Doug Descalzi, one of several residents on and around North Meadowcroft Avenue who said their neighborhood would favor the municipality adding sidewalks to their streets.

“I don't see how you can have this list and not have something like this on it.”

The turf proponents are suggesting that the municipality partner with the Mt. Lebanon School District to add turf to the field at Mellon Middle School off Washington Road.

They said that the fields, in addition to being overbooked, pose a safety risk. Players scrimmaging on separate halves of the same field could run into one another or could hurt themselves when frequent use of a field leaves the grass full of mud or ruts, they said.

“A good bodily injury lawyer could probably tear apart the waiver a kid signs, when he breaks his ankle in one of the holes,” resident Chris Sloan said.

When the high school's turf field is booked, some teams must pay to travel to other communities to practice on artificial turf, said Tamara Pratt, mother of a field hockey player.

“There are times I'm picking her up at the school at midnight on a school night” after a practice elsewhere, Pratt said.

“I'm not going to suggest that artificial turf is more important than sidewalks or storm sewers, but I look at fields the same way as any other infrastructure,” said David Franklin, a member of Mt. Lebanon's Parks Advisory Board and Sports Advisory Board. “I don't think the decision to improve fields is a frivolous decision.”

Putting some of the money toward fields appeared to have the support of at least three of the five commissioners during a previous meeting, though Commission President Matt Kluck emphasized that there was no definite plan for which field would get artificial turf or whether the school district would contribute if the field was its property.

Commissioners didn't take action on how to spend the surplus, left over when 2012's expenses were lower than budgeted and revenues were higher. That bumped Mt. Lebanon's undesignated fund balance to 12.3 percent of its expenditures; the municipality normally keeps 10 percent in reserve.

Kluck said it was not clear when a vote would be scheduled.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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