The Sag Harbor School Board remains on the fence about fixing the playing fields at the middle and high school. The fields no doubt are in need of repair, as they are covered with weeds and the grounds are uneven. However, the board is reluctant to sink millions of dollars into installing turf without significant input from the public. A special meeting to discuss the fields, among other capital projects, was held on Tuesday evening, but sparsely attended. The board decided to come to a final decision at the next board of education meeting on October 5, hoping more community members will be present.
Robert Wilkinson with Landtek, an athletic field construction company, was on hand Tuesday extolling the benefits of a turf playing field over a natural and organically maintained one. The problem with an organic field, noted Wilkinson, is that over time the soil compacts, making it dangerous for children to play on. He estimated the annual maintenance to maintain grass organically is around $52,500.
According to Wilkinson, turf has come a long way since astro-turf. As he presented it, synthetic turf is impressive but comes with a hefty price tag.
Landtek’s product has the “biomechanical properties of a natural grass,” said their website. It is infilled with rubber and sand, and acts as a natural filtration system. At minimum, the life expectancy of the synthetic grass is 15 years. Annual maintenance costs around $5,000.
However, the installation of the turf, including all construction costs, is estimated at around $950,000. With all the bells and whistles, like outdoor lights and a running track, the field project could cost the district around $2.3 million. And this is a price the board isn’t willing to sink their teeth into just yet.
“I think we need much more input from the community … We really haven’t spoken about this in the district,” noted school board president Walter Wilcoxen. “It is really about money.”
Benito Vila, a local sports coach and parent, however, spoke of his support for the turf.
“Playing on that field is dangerous. The ball doesn’t play true. You are running on one type of grass and then mid-stride you are running on a completely different kind,” chimed in Vila. “I think the idea of having the turf is remarkable and it makes so much sense.”
The board was also divided on whether to bundle the turf project into the capital project bond or set it apart as a separate ballot proposition for the December 1 referendum vote. There is a time crunch for the board to make a decision on the fields as the project requires a SEQRA review which must be completed 45 days before a vote.
“Everywhere you go there are things that require more work from our custodial staff. They are constantly moving things and putting them back. It is out of sight out of our minds, but it is pretty bad,” reported school board member Maryanne Miller of the lack of storage at the schools.
The board is debating whether to build a two-story storage building on the middle and high school property. A preliminary price for the facility is estimated at $1,027,200.
“One of the most memorable comments [I heard] is that the district has been talking about this for 14 years. All projects come with a cost and all of them need to be done,” added school superintendent Dr. John Gratto. “If we don’t put them in front of the voters, they will be here 14 years from now.”
The capital bond project is priced at around $6,051,114 accounting for an additional $50 per taxpayer. The addition of the turf field, storage building, and energy performance contract items would bring the bond up to $9,663,143, meaning around $100 would be additionally tacked on to resident’s tax bills.