After a strong showing by parents last week, urging the school board to reverse its vote to renovate the Burrell High School stadium field with natural grass, the board Tuesday night agreed to seek contract bids for artificial turf as well.
The decision is part of a renovation project at the high school track and athletic field planned for next year. Drainage issues have plagued the track, which has multiple patches, and the football field has lost its “crown,” or slightly raised center which helps water drain from it toward the sidelines.
The school board’s decision to include bid specifications for artificial turf, in addition to natural sod, isn’t so much a reversal of the board’s decision, but a re-examination of the two alternatives with more precise cost estimates.
The original estimates for the field renovation with natural sod was pegged at about $400,000, while artificial turf was expected to cost $1.2 million to $1.3 million to install.
The initial estimates reviewed by the board for natural grass maintenance costs were $40,000 to $50,000 annually, which is about four times the cost for maintenance of synthetic turf. The artificial surface would have to be replaced in 12 to 14 years at a cost of about $400,000.
With the board’s unanimous decision, the architect for the project, HHSDR Architects/Engineers of Sharon, has been directed to assemble bid specifications documents, which will include more precise estimates, on installing natural sod and an artificial turf field.
The school board will hold a special meeting in December to review the bid documents and decide if they will seek bids for just a sod field, an artificial turf field or both. The special meeting date has not yet been set.
School Director Pam Key said the board viewed the artificial turf versus natural sod decision as important and was happy to see the turnout for the board’s agenda meeting last week.
About a dozen residents spoke, many of them parents, urging the board to reverse their decision. They touted the benefits of the artificial field, including increased student use by other athletic teams and organizations, including the youth football Lower Burrell Flyers organization, and becoming on par with most other area high school stadiums.
“I appreciate the discussion last week,” Key said. “That’s the kind of discussions we need.”
On Aug. 20, the school board voted 7-2 to go with natural turf for practical reasons, mainly the lower cost of natural turf and the existence of other school projects that also have to be paid for in years to come.
Although, school board President Tricia Shank said, a majority of the directors would “really have loved to put in artificial turf.”
As requested by the some of the speakers last week, the school board has been gathering more information on artificial fields, Shank said.
There are a number of considerations, including income and grants from the possible use of an artificial turf field by the youth football league, Shank said.
The district could secure a grant, Shank and Superintendent Shannon Wagner said, however, they won’t know the district’s eligibility at the time the school board makes a decision on the field late this year.
Another factor is the recent refinancing of school bonds that could provide extra money for the school board to use for the project.