Lindbergh school board eyes turf options for two athletic fields

Booster groups discussing campaign to raise funds for field improvements

By BURKE WASSON

Lindbergh School District officials are considering options to improve the playing surface on two athletic fields through sand insulation or possibly a conversion to synthetic turf.

The improvements would be made on the district’s football/soccer field and its track field.

During a recent work session, district officials presented four options to be considered by the Board of Education by 2009 — restoring the fields’ quality to when originally constructed in 1995, insulating with six inches of sand, insulating with 12 inches of sand and replacing the fields’ grass with synthetic turf.

District employees and booster groups already have met with Rich Moffitt of Moffitt & Associates to discuss some of those future options.

Chief Financial Officer Pat Lanane said those booster groups already have discussed initiating a capital campaign to raise money for improvements to the athletic fields.

“We’ve been talking with our various booster groups, who have some interest in doing something beyond what we’re willing to recommend,” Lanane said. “The board hasn’t signed off on any of this other than to say well, what we’re going to recommend is kind of in this ballpark.”

At the April 26 work session, board members discussed primarily whether to insulate the fields with six inches of sand or replace their grass with synthetic turf.

Lanane said 12-inch sand insulation would be much more costly than six inches and added that a six-inch sand barrier would increase water drainage at the two fields by as much as 10 times.

“The six-inch (sand insulation) is very common in high schools and it drains a factor of probably 10 times better than the field we have right now, and that was one of the things we liked about it,” Lanane said. “But it is real grass. So even looking at that, with the weather that we’ve had this spring, even with that we would have lost quite a bit of playing days — even though it drains a lot better. And as badly as it drains right now, this has just been a mess this spring.”

That said, Lanane said converting to a synthetic-turf playing surface at even one of the two fields would increase the ability to use those fields by a much greater factor.

“We know it’s going to be a fairly major task on one level,” Lanane said. “But on another level, you’ve got at least three groups that really have an interest in having that. And I really believe that having at least one artificial surface, this last month it would have been gold. And if the sand gives us a factor of maybe five times more playability, this turf is maybe a hundred times. It’s unbelievable. You can just use it and use it.

“It doesn’t solve all your problems. And I wouldn’t want to do all my fields in that because there are some things with those that are not perfect. They’re pretty warm in the summer time. But on the other hand, for the times of the year that we really use it a lot — the fall and spring — oh my. It would give us some flexibility and the ability to not have to cancel a lot of events and probably have kids out on it from morning until night.”

As for the option of restoring the fields to their original condition when first constructed in 1995, Lanane said the sand-insulation options are more appealing as they are slightly more cost, but also much greater drainage.

“We’re kind of looking at the first sand option with the six-inch,” Lanane said. “Another option was just to do the grass and kind of put it back the way it was originally. But you’re almost at as much cost … you’re approaching probably two-thirds of the cost of the sand. And the sand will give you a factor of being able to play on it after the rain probably five times better at least. Well, you think it might be worth it to go just a little better and to have something that’s going to give you a lot more use.”

The field-improvement options would be one-time expenditures paid through a combination of district balances as well as a campaign from booster groups if extensive improvements are desired.

“As you’re looking at your available resources, here’s two items that you’re probably going to have to look at using some of the balance to fix long term,” Lanane said. “And that’s OK. That’s part of what the balance is there for. I’d prefer it to be one-time expenditures rather than ongoing. So you come in and you have some money to make some fixes you need without asking the taxpayers to give you any more.

“We just want (the Board of Education) to be aware that those two fields have some repair beyond what it’s going to take to get them playable for next year.”

Going further beyond even those needs, the chief financial officer said while the synthetic-turf option would be ideal, it definitely would require an active capital campaign from booster groups due to its cost.

“You look at the option for the artificial turf and you say well, that’s probably more than we’re willing to recommend at this time,” Lanane said. “But if an outside group wants to make up the difference between probably that six-inch sand option and what it would cost to put the turf on and they step up and do a capital campaign, then we’re certainly willing to entertain that idea.”

Lanane added that he is aware that efforts for such a campaign already are being organized by such booster groups.

While conversion to a synthetic-turf playing surface would save “some” field-maintenance costs, Lanane said the true benefit of artificial turf is the added usage.

“From a usage standpoint, it’s actually cheaper to use than the money you put in for a grass field and then you have much limited usage,” Lanane said. “So it has me interested from that standpoint.

“I think in 10 years, this isn’t even a conversation … Right now, it’s something new and it’s probably not the most dominant type of field out there. But within 10 years, it certainly will be … I think it’s better for high-school-type use than it is for the pros because the pros are a very limited season and they reserve their facilities for their use only and that sort of thing. Ours is a multi-use, all-year-round-type thing. It probably makes more sense for school districts to have artificial turf than it does for the professionals.”

If the synthetic-turf option were to be utilized, Lanane said it wouldn’t necessarily be installed at both the football/soccer field and track field.

But even with one turf field, he said the advantages to the district would be “tremendous from a usage standpoint.”

“One (turf field) I think would be wonderful,” Lanane said. “Two would be great. I just don’t know when you get into the capital campaign how much money could be raised in a very short period of time … But I certainly think one artificial-turf field would have a real advantage for us just in terms of being able to get out there and use it.”