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Council Split Over Turf Grant

October 15, 2009 by Josh Morgan

The Democratic Council majority squashed a motion from the minority caucus on Tuesday night that would have reallocated an artificial turf grant to be used for new locker rooms.
Republican Councilors felt the $525,000 artificial turf grant would be better used to replace the boy’s locker room at Cheshire High School. Money for the project was approved in this year’s Capital Budget and will be subject to voter approval at referendum next month. The four Republican members of the Town Council felt the burden on taxpayers would be lessened if a grant could be used instead of asking the taxpayers to pay for the project.
“We’ve identified a pressing need and this money can cover that,” explained Republican Tim Slocum, who crafted the resolution. “The turf committee has done work, but there are no firm cost estimates. This could be poor planning, and we have a history of that.”
Slocum was referring to the Cheshire Community Pool, as he said a turf field could not be covered entirely by a grant and upkeep and replacement costs need to be factored in before moving forward. Also, Slocum was concerned that the referendum language for the locker room replacement project was too vague, which led to some skepticism in the public, he said, that the money could eventually be used for turf.
Democratic Councilor Michael Ecke said it “takes a leap” to assume the locker room money would be used for a turf field just because the language “including, but not limited to,” the locker rooms was part of the referendum. He said that was never proposed by the Board of Education and did not think it was their intention to do so.
Republican Tom Ruocco said reallocating the grant to be used for the locker rooms would fix a “pressing need and a priority.” He said that doing so would not eliminate the possibility of a turf field, however, he believed the project should be put out to referendum for the public to decide if CHS gets turf or not. He was also concerned that the Town acquired the money through State Representative Mary Fritz, from what Ruocco called the state’s slush fund.
“The grant was never pursued by the Town,” Ruocco said. “I know there is support for the field, but the grant would cover the (locker room) project.”
Town Hall was filled with turf supporters, from coaches to parents. All but one spoke in favor of the turf grant, with many suggesting the motion was simply a political ploy with the election nearing.
“I can’t believe we are on this subject again. You folks are out of your mind,” said resident Robert Daly. “This is why people don’t like political season.”
Matt Bowman said grass fields should only hold 35 events per year to prevent wear and tear, but the field at Cheshire High School holds over 125 annually.
“It’s deteriorating and deteriorating rapidly,” Bowman said. “We need this facility and we need it now.”
In February 2008, the Council, along party lines, accepted the turf grant. Around that time, an ad-hoc turf committee was formed, through the Board of Education, to look into the health risks and other issues surrounding the installation of artificial turf. Periodically, the committee has provided updates, but has yet to present its full findings to the Town Council.
Democratic Councilor Laura DeCaprio felt it was disrespectful to the committee to dismiss the possibility of a turf field without even hearing their findings.
“You don’t have to agree with the results, but you need to be respectful and listen,” DeCaprio said.
Rob Oris, a member of the ad-hoc committee, said he was upset that the Council would even consider taking the grant away and “totally disregard the work we’ve done.” He was also concerned with the poor quality of the field at CHS.
“The field cannot take the use we put on it, we need to invest in these facilities,” Oris said. “It’s political season and this is nothing more than grandstanding.
Ecke agreed, saying that he was embarrassed for the Council.
“If there was not an election in November, we wouldn’t be sitting here right now,” he said.
Democratic Councilor Matt Altieri explained that he spoke with Fritz recently, about the possibility of reallocating the grant to another project. He said he was told that the Town could lose the grant entirely if it pursued that possibility.
“Could we do it? Maybe, but we could lose the whole grant,” Altieri said. “I am not willing to take that risk.”
Sue Zentek was the lone dissenting voice from the audience who agreed with the Council minority. She believed the request was “reasonable” and money that could be used for eventually replacing the turf field could be used to hire more teachers.
“Is the turf field a need? If you say yes, then you value athletics over academics,” Zentek said. “I’m not sure how you can justify spending on a turf after making cuts to the (education) budget.”

Comments

Turf Field??

October 16, 2009 by 99, 5 years 2 weeks ago
Comment: 68

Shouldn't it be more important that the children don't have to deal with the health risks of an unsanitary locker room? It seems like many in this town feel its more important to have their kids running around on new turf than keeping them healthy. Sounds to me like another sterling example of how many people in this town are all style and no substance. If it were me, I would be more concerned that my kids weren't getting a respiratory infection from the locker room to go with the staph infection from the field. It seems that people are concentrating on the installation of the field and not the maintenance of it. Given that there is already a maintenance issue with the locker rooms, how will the school afford the maintenance issues that go along with a turf field? The locker room conditions affect more students than the turf would.

Another consern with the astroturf field is the actual athletics conducted on the field. The question should be, how many of these students are going to go from this turf field to a turf field at a university? And, of those students, how many will go from the turf field of a university to a turf field as a professional athelete?

As an example, I believe that over half of the professional football teams don't play on turf. The NFL players association wants to do away with the turf because of the number of injuries that are associated with playing on turf. This is just one example.

Perhaps the school should consider moving some of the games to the other fields I drive by in this town.

Another question for everyone should be why has it taken the ad-hoc committee almost two years to research the health risks or perhaps lack thereof? If there is that many activities on the field, then half way through the playing season, why not just resod the field like they do in pro football. There are enough turf farms around here, I'm sure they would be more than happy to put in a bid.

It sounds like no one has really done a cost-benefit analysis. I hoped that we learned a few hard and expensive lessons from the town pool construction. It sounds like this town is aiming for another hard and expensive lesson with astroturf.

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