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Story - Education

Mar 17, 2010 1:23 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Taxpayers are expected to make decision on artificial turf in Westhampton Beach this May

Mar 17, 2010 1:23 PM

Fifteen years ago, the Westhampton Beach School District’s main athletic field was only used for football games.

Today, that grass field, located south of Montauk Highway and east of Oneck Lane, hosts approximately 70 sporting events a year—including football, lacrosse and soccer. And the 18-year-old track that surrounds it has also seen its share of wear and tear over the years and is covered with patches of asphalt.

The damage to both has been so severe that district officials plan to ask taxpayers in May to allow the grass to be replaced with artificial turf and the track to be repaved—an estimated $1.6 million project that school officials say will not result in increased taxes, as the work will be financed with surplus funds.

The referendum, which could appear as either one or two items on the May ballot, will be separate from the school district’s proposed 2010-11 budget, which has not yet been released. Westhampton Beach School Board members are expected to put the artificial turf/school track measure on the ballot at their next meeting on Monday, March 22, at 7 p.m. A public forum on the turf and track project will be held on Tuesday, April 27, at 7 p.m.

“These kids deserve this,” said Kathy Masterson, the athletic director at the Westhampton Beach School District, regarding the proposed artificial turf field.

Ms. Masterson chaired the district’s Athletics Facilities Committee that last year recommended the artificial turf. The project was spiked after School Board members expressed concern about the souring economy even though the main field has not been renovated in close to 40 years, according to Westhampton Beach School District Superintendent Lynn Schwartz.

But not everyone in the community supports the proposal. Critics point out that the installation of artificial turf costs about $1 million, almost double the $600,000 it would cost to replace the field with new grass. The savings, school officials contend, comes in the annual maintenance fees; it costs around $5,000 a year to maintain turf and between $25,000 and $30,000 a year keep a grass field in shape. Additionally, replacing the field with grass will mean that the main field would not be available to students for more than a year.

Others have raised concerns about health risks associated with artificial turf, such as the potential for athletes to inhale the rubber fibers that could be stirred up by activities, even though the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has indicated that turf is a safe option. They also point to the fact that, on average, turf fields must be replaced every 10 years or so at a cost of about $500,000, using today’s figures.

Sabina Trager, a mother who has two students attending Westhampton Beach Elementary School, contends that the district is sugar-coating the initiative by not highlighting the additional expenses that come with switching from grass to turf.

“It’s a huge expense every 10 years,” Ms. Trager said, referring to the cost or ripping up and replacing the artificial turf.

Others in the community, starting with the student athletes who must play on the field—when weather permits—are hopeful that taxpayers approve the work, which would start once the current school year ends and be completed by September at the latest.

Lacrosse, soccer and football players inadvertently rip up the grass field, causing ruts that can send balls bouncing in unnatural directions, said Cory Hubbard, a senior who plays lacrosse and football on the main field. When it rains, Devin Mandell, a junior who plays lacrosse, soccer and track and field, said mud patches form and grit often finds its way into the eyes of players. And if the district resurfaced its running track, athletes wouldn’t get shin splints as often, said Alex Choi, a 17-year-old senior.

Perhaps most important to student athletes, a turf field will allow them to feel as if they were part of a serious athletic program. That’s hard to get past right now because, as Devin pointed out, something as seemingly harmless as a light drizzle can potentially sideline practices and delay games.

If its installation is approved, a turf field will enable the district to keep holding as many as 70 games a year on the main field. Holding that many games on a grass field is placing too heavy a strain on it, according to school officials. Ideally, only 20 games would be held on the grass each year.

Additionally, a turf field will enhance the district’s physical education program, said School Board President Aram Terchunian. He said the change will allow physical education teachers to extend their outdoor athletic sessions by five or six weeks each spring.

“We need synthetic turf,” Mr. Terchunian said. “Natural grass doesn’t do that.”

If the measure makes the ballot, and if taxpayers approve it, the turf field will be installed and track resurfaced by September, meaning that the football team will be able to finish its season on its home turf. The board approved that timeline at its last meeting on March 8. BBS Architect and Engineers of Patchogue, the firm hired to oversee the project, must complete preliminary work now so a building permit can be secured from the New York State Education Department immediately after the May vote.

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It is about time that WHB gets a turf field. With the amount of youth teams that utilize the fields along with the JV and Varsity sports it only makes sense. WHB is always behind when it comes to our facilities. It took forever to get lights for the field and now it is going to take forever to get the turf, I hope to see a permanent Hurricane swirl at midfield before the current freshman class graduate. It would certainly give student athletes of all sports something to be proud of!
By frmreastendr (7), Rochester on Mar 22, 10 7:03 PM
Why have money spent on something that is not required or proven to be safe? It would be smarter to spend money on solar panels for the school. This could benefit everyone. There are also tax benefits to this.
By WHBlocal (3), WHB on Mar 24, 10 11:47 AM
Nero fiddles while the Village Government burns.Anyone for cheesecake?
By nellie (451), sag harbor on Mar 24, 10 10:24 PM