Grass or artificial turf? Burrell school board set to decide | TribLIVE.com
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Mary Ann Thomas

The Burrell School Board will decide Tuesday whether the district will pay to replace the high school stadium field with natural sod or artificial turf.

The decision is part of a renovation project at the high school track and athletic field.

Drainage issues have plagued the track, which has multiple patches, and the football field, which has lost its crown.

Installing natural sod would cost around $350,000 to $400,000, and artificial turf would cost between $1.2 million and $1.3 million, said Andreas Dometakis, vice president of the contractor, HHSDR Architects/Engineers of Sharon.

The field surface is part of a $2.5 million capital project that includes $276,000 for the restoration of the Bon Air Elementary School softball field, $757,000 for resurfacing the high school track and other improvements at the high school stadium.

School board members had mixed reactions on sod versus artificial turf during their meeting last week. Some wanted to spend the money, saying that the field would get more use and more students would be able to play and practice on it.

Others questioned if the extra money spent on the more expensive artificial turf should be applied to other important district projects and expenses.

“We only have so much money,” said Pam Key, school board director and treasurer. “Where are we going to get the extra $1 million (for artificial turf)?”

District Business Manager Jennifer Callahan proposed to refinance the district’s bonds. The current principal due is $19.8 million, she said.

The district monitors the bond market and it’s a good time to refinance the bonds, Callahan said, with the district saving an estimated $560,000.

If the district approves the refinancing, the extra money would shore up the existing capital funds to pay for the artificial turf.

For a school district, having artificial turf is more the norm these days, according to an informal survey by Superintendent Shannon Wagner.

Of 17 area school districts, only three, including Burrell, do not have an artificial surface, she said.

Wagner requested that the contractor make available more detailed analysis of costs of both alternatives, taking into account maintenance costs over a decade.

Natural grass maintenance costs are about $40,000 to $50,000 annually, which is about four times the cost for maintenance of synthetic turf, according to the architects. But the articifical surface would have to be replaced in 12 to 14 years at the cost of about $400,000, they said.

Either way, the project includes fixing the draining issues. When it rains currently, puddles form in parts of the track and field.

By the end of the football season, the natural grass gets beat up, resulting in muddy conditions, said Drake D’Angelo, Burrell’s athletic director.

Although Penn State’s School of Agriculture recommends about 30 contests a year on a natural grass playing field, Burrell holds about 58 per year at its stadium field, D’Angelo said. That includes football, soccer, rugby and band events.

“This field could be used more by band, middle school soccer, softball and gym classes,” he said.

Either way, D’Angelo said a better field means an improved and positive experience for students.

“You take pride in your field,” he said. “You’re from Burrell and a Buc.”

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