2017-11-08 / News

To Turf or Not to Turf?

Delaware Academy Board Discuss Dave Kelly Athletic Field
By Rosie Cunningham

Delaware Academy Central School District at Delhi Superintendent of Schools Jason Thomson presented a field surface analysis to about 40 individuals who were present for Monday night’s board of education meeting. 
Rosie Cunningham/The Reporter Delaware Academy Central School District at Delhi Superintendent of Schools Jason Thomson presented a field surface analysis to about 40 individuals who were present for Monday night’s board of education meeting. Rosie Cunningham/The Reporter DELHI - The surface of the Delaware Academy athletic field was a hot topic at the board of education meeting Monday night.

Delaware Academy residents and the board of education, it seems, are split as to whether the Dave Kelly field will be redone with natural grass or with turf. The decision is an important item among the additions and improvements included in the upcoming $10.4 million capital project that residents in the district will be asked to vote on. The capitol project, according to DA Business Administrator Carey Shultz, will have a zero-percent tax increase to residents.

Aside from improvements to the field, the scope of the project includes renovations to the elementary building: improvements to the kitchen and cafe, HVAC renovations, installation of new windows, asbestos abatement, boiler replacement, upgrades of fire alarms, the PA system and carbon monoxide detection, library and art room rehabilitation, improvement of pavement, curbs and walkways. Middle school and high school building: renovation of the varsity locker rooms, rehabilitation of the middle school and high school building bathrooms, middle school pod locker replacement, roof replacement and gutters, rehabilitation of pavement, curbs and walkways, replace electrical panel boards, tennis court renovations, upgrade of fire alarms and carbon monoxide detection and renovations to various middle school classrooms.

About 40 residents, coaches and staff members of Delaware Academy turned out for the Monday night board meeting to discuss the capital project and whether or not turf or natural grass would be the better option for the Dave Kelly Field. 
Rosie Cunningham/The Reporter About 40 residents, coaches and staff members of Delaware Academy turned out for the Monday night board meeting to discuss the capital project and whether or not turf or natural grass would be the better option for the Dave Kelly Field. Rosie Cunningham/The Reporter Delaware Academy Central School District at Delhi Superintendent of Schools Jason Thomson presented a field surface analysis to about 40 individuals who were present and said his recommendation is to resurface the Dave Kelly Field with non-abrasive, “in-filled” field turf - created to simulate natural grass fields (turf shoes are not necessary). The current field, installed by Clark Companies, has been in place for about 20 years, according to board member Lucy Kelly.

Thomson said he can only speak of his personal experience with turf and he based his analysis from professional scientific and medical research journals (The American Journal of Sports Medicine).

“And, we can no longer use pesticides, as per New York State Education Department (NYSED) rules and regulations, on the grass fields either,” he said. “Our sand base should be at 10 inches and currently, it is only at four, which lowers the absorption rate (g-max, ground surface hardness). I feel that field turf is the safer bet with 22 percent fewer severe injuries, less rotator cuff injuries and muscle tears.”

Thomson said the turf in question is also used at the majority of Medical Universities, such as John Hopkins University, Ivy League colleges - Notre Dame, Penn State and national football fields such as the New York Giants and the New England Patriots fields.

“These owners put their investments on the fields and our investments are our children. That’s what I am trying to do - protect our children,” said Thomson.

He added that he has found no secure data regarding turf allergies and did look into cancer concerns.

“Synthetic turf is safe,” he said. “We utilize the Dave Kelly Field for a number of events and we are not utilizing the field to its maximum potential.”

Currently, the Delhi American Legion fields, which are located off-site, are highly utilized by the Delaware Academy athletes.

For practices and games, students and coaches must transport to the legion fields to play, and for games, the location is a challenge for visiting teams to find and has a port-a-potty for guests.

“I am uneasy that students transport themselves off-site during these high traffic times,” said Thomson, a sentiment that was repeated by Delaware Academy (DA) Athletic Director Jeff Ferrara.

Both Thomson and the athletic director discussed “playable hours.”

“Playability increases from current use of 9.5 hours per week to 32.5 hours per week,” said Thomson. “Artificial turf would allow spring sports teams such as baseball and softball to utilize the outdoor facility, improving the quality of their practices.”

Ferrara said the turf and use of the Dave Kelly Field would help with overall efficiency for practices and games on campus as well as the travel risks to students.

A resident of the community asked if buses could transport the students to the legion to “reduce risks.”

Ferrara responded that bus availability and wait time is a problem regarding that solution.

“Currently, we rent out the legion fields annually, for $10,000,” he said. “This field does not mean we would not do that any longer. We still need to utilize those fields as well.”

Thomson also discussed trends and community partnerships and the possibility of renting the Dave Kelly Field once turf is down. He added that conditions and environmental factors are a constant issue as to the utilization of the current field.

Sara Cecce, a DA parent, said her daughter has had a concussion while playing sports at DA.

“I do believe turf is safer,” she said. “Also, our school is beautiful and this project will only add to that.”

Shultz touched upon the economic aspect of the Dave Kelly Field and the capital project as a whole, in regards to short- and long-term impacts of the project.

He said of the $10,393,840 project, DA will get $6,893,840 in state aid. Between the state aide and a debt service fund of 3.5 million, the result will be a zero-percent tax increase.

An individual in the audience said the residents do pay in the long run.

“Where do you think the state gets that money?” he asked. “That state aid is our money.”

To maintain a grass surface on the field, the annual cost to the district is $29,198, while for turf, the annual cost $33,347.

“Factor in playable hours - 9.5 hours a week versus 32.5 hours,” Thomson said.

Thomson reiterated, per his recommendation, he believes the board and voters should vote “yes” to turf and summarized that his stance is due to durability of the field, performance, drainage, safety, warranty (turf comes with a warranty), maintenance (less than grass), playability, health and the opportunity to rent out the facility.

Scott Clark, owner of Clark Companies and a Delhi resident, said he has installed “every kind of field there is.”

“We (DA) have the money for aeration (of a natural grass field), but we don’t have the staff,” added Clark. “Maintaining a turf field is mindless. You are given grooming equipment which is towed behind a lawn mower three times a year.”

Clark said he isn’t trying to sell the board and residents anything, rather, he is just stating the facts.

“It just makes sense,” he said. “In the long term, it (turf) is more economical and safer.”

Delhi resident Dominic Morales, former SUNY Delhi Professor who helped develop the Golf Course Operations program, and the Bachelor in Golf and Sports Turf Management program at Delhi, previously provided a presentation about the benefits of natural turf. He argued that he believes due to price, management, maintenance and safety, the natural grass option is still the better option.

Thomson said that the Kelly Field has surpassed its lifespan. Either way, the athletic field will have to be re-sodded, because the soil below is only about four inches deep, and to soften the ground, it needs to be about 10 inches deep.

Residents argued that with more than 32 hours a week on artificial turf, there will be more wear-and-tear than the presentation indicates. Again, the argument is the maintenance cost is too high and the disposal, when the turf needs to be replaced, will have a negative impact on the environment.

“Turf will need to be replaced,” said Morales. “In about 10 years, I believe.”

Thomson said cost for replacement of turf will not be as high as the initial installation and that the field will have to be replaced after about 14 (plus) years.

A resident asked Thomson if he would keep records of concussions at DA. She wondered how the records could be accurate if a student does not inform anyone if he or she gets concussed.

“The dialogue is more open now and we are trained what to look out for,” said Ferrara.

“That is a variable we cannot control,” said Thomson, who indicated that the research based figures he presented are sound.

Town of Meredith Supervisor James Ellis said sometimes, if money is available, it’s not always the prudent decision to take it just because it is there. He added that school enrollment is declining and the number of athletes on teams are declining as well, and he believes those statistics should be taken into consideration.

“To make an investment like this when the numbers are declining is not prudent,” he said. “As a taxpayer, I would like to see a match in academic dollars.”

Board of education member Glenn Nealis said each and every time a vote has come to the forefront at DA in regards to academics, it has been improved.

“This field is for our clients and those clients are our children,” he said. “We treat the Dave Kelly Field as just the football field and this would open it up to all athletics. I have been involved in four projects as a board member and for each project, we have to factor in costs to fix or replace roofs (to the tune of millions). We don’t even blink at that. The cost impact to the school is the difference of $4,000 a year. Either way, something has to be done to the field.”

Board of education member Seth Haight said DA budgets improvements to the school all the time that are not academically related, such as aesthetically pleasing projects.

Lucy Kelly spoke against the decision to have a turf field while board member Elizabeth Huneke said she believes the school could better maintain the field if grass is an option.

Despite, conflicting opinions, the board is agreeable to presenting two separate propositions for capital projects to the public for approval at the district’s annual meeting in May 15, 2018:

Proposition 1 will be submitted for approval as a capital project to include various improvements and upgrades (mentioned in paragraph two) to the Delhi facilities that have been studied, developed and refined by the board and the architect/ building professionals over an extensive period of time, including natural grass upgrades and improvements to Kelly field, but excluding any funds to install a synthetic turf system on Kelly field.

“In light of the safety studies presented suggesting that synthetic turf systems may in fact be a safer playing surface for students,” Thomson stated in a release. “But, hearing concerns expressed about the additional cost and useful life of these systems, the board is also prepared, to the extent legally permissible, to submit as Proposition 2 (a separate proposition) to the voters which would allow the voters to determine if they wish to authorize a separate capital project to install a synthetic turf system on Kelly field.

The District’s financial professionals, attorney and bond counsel will be researching and advising the board as to legal requirements and specific language of future resolutions needed to accomplish the board’s objectives, all such resolutions to be adopted in future public meetings.

“Bottom line: Unless the taxpayers approve Proposition 2 (synthetic turf system) as a separate, stand-alone project, synthetic turf will not be installed and the overall capital project will include only natural grass upgrades and improvements to Kelly field,” stated Thomson and closed by stating, “At the end of the day, I want to keep all our children safe and do what is in the best interest for all of our students, school, and community.”

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