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Mt. Lebanon requires match for money to install artificial turf on playing fields

| Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013, 7:52 p.m.

Mt. Lebanon sports groups will have to raise $250,000 if they want to unlock $750,000 that the commissioners set aside for installing artificial turf on municipal playing fields.

The commissioners voted Monday to transfer $500,000 from previous years' unspent reserves and $137,400 from another field improvement project to install artificial turf at Wildcat and Middle fields, a pair of baseball diamonds with overlapping outfields in Mt. Lebanon Park, just off Cedar Boulevard, converting them into a multi-sport field. An additional $112,600 will be designated in the 2014 budget.

But Mt. Lebanon will sign over the money only if the sports groups pushing for the artificial turf can raise their share of the estimated $1 million installation cost, Commissioner John Bendel said.

“If we don't come up with the money, it doesn't happen,” said Dave Franklin, one of the residents and advisory board members who had been pressing to turf a field. “I don't think any other initiative in this community has ever asked its stakeholders to step up and come up with this kind of money.”

The plan also will establish a team of municipal and sports representatives responsible for:

• Setting field-use fees that would cover the costs of maintenance and eventual turf replacement.

• Drafting a maintenance agreement with the Mt. Lebanon School District, which would handle day-to-day upkeep on the field in exchange for playing time.

• Preparing a list of turf vendors, and presenting their recommendations to the Sports Advisory Board and the commission by February.

The vote was 3-2, with Commissioners Kelly Fraasch and Matt Kluck opposed.

Fraasch said other projects should have taken priority over turf installation, such as improvements to Robb Hollow Park or the golf course. She also worried that the language of the resolution wasn't strong enough in favor of “eco-friendly” artificial turf that uses materials such as cork instead of crumbled rubber tire pieces as filler.

Kluck said he didn't like paying for much of the project with the municipality's revenues or unspent money that he called the result of an “over-tax.” Kluck also said municipal funds would be needed to replace the turf in several years.

“The anticipation of continued undesignated funds in this proposal is a weak spot,” he said.

Residents Elaine Gillen and James Cannon III spoke against the project, with Gillen opposing the long-term costs, and Cannon questioning the necessity of the project and arguments that such an amenity would draw new residents.

“A lack of artificial turf to date hasn't prevented people from moving here, and I don't see that changing,” Cannon said.

Franklin said he is glad to have the municipal commitment to a project, which he could point to when soliciting corporate and private donations.

The Mt. Lebanon School District also is in the midst of a campaign to raise $6 million toward capital improvements and programs of its own.

“The rest of it is up to us,” he said. “We'd never had a project before that we could go out and ask about, and sell. I was a salesman without a product.”

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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