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NLS hears from synthetic turf supporters

NEW LONDON — About a dozen parents, teachers, former teachers and sports boosters on Monday told members of the New London-Spicer School Board they support a proposal to install synthetic turf at the high school football field.

The comments were made during the listening session prior to the official board meeting and are in contrast to numerous comments opposing the project that some board members said they have fielded in recent weeks.

"It would be a great enhancement for our community," said Tom Tengwall, who had led the volunteer football field grounds crew for years and said he hopes the board will continue to research synthetic turf.

Installing turf would add a multi-sport and multi-use facility to the district, said Mike Novak, a member of the sports booster club.

Not only would turf make it possible for lower grade-level games and practices to be played on the field but physical education classes could also use the space, said Athletic Director John Vraa.

In September and October of this year, there were 23 events held on the field. With synthetic turf it's expected that 158 events could be held during the same time period, according to an informational flier produced by the district.

According to Vraa, there are currently 30 to 35 events on field for an entire year, but with synthetic turf more than 500 events could be held on the space without concern about rain or mud. The field would also be a desirable leased space for area sports teams and community events that could generate revenue.

The board started exploring the proposal in earnest a couple months ago as plans were made to replace the deteriorating track around the field and as the board explored a proposal to build a road through the middle of the campus to provide a bus route between the elementary school and the middle/high school.

If the new road is built, it would reduce the size of existing practice fields in the land-locked school district, a loss of space that could be offset by having synthetic turf available for everyday use, according to Vraa.

Installing synthetic turf is estimated to cost $600,000 to $800,000 spread out in annual lease-levy payments over 15 years, which is the estimated life of synthetic turf before it would need to be replaced.

It's estimated the annual maintenance cost for turf would be about $1,000.

The district currently spends about $19,000 a year to maintain the grass field, which does not include the 180 to 200 hours a month in volunteer labor needed to maintain the field.

Board Chairman Robert Moller said he has talked to several hundred district residents about the synthetic turf, including many who oppose it. Some question why the board would pursue the turf project while in the midst of a $20.6 million construction project.

But Moller said it was good to hear from the group of supporters.

"We'll give it a good look to see if it's feasible and see if this is something we want to go forward with," Moller said.

The board has toured several regional school districts that have turf fields and was planning to take another tour Wednesday to Alexandria, which has had synthetic turf for four years.

The board is expected to make a final decision next month.

Construction update

Kevin Currie, project manager with Winkelman Building Corporation, gave the board an update on the district's ongoing construction underway at the high school, middle school and elementary school.

Currie said because of positive bids, all the alternate items on the district's construction wish list will be built.

So far there have been $160,000 in change orders, which leaves a contingency fund of $1,256,000. However, Currie said the state found several architectural issues during the review of the permit that need to be resolved. The cost ramifications of that process are unknown at this point, Currie said.

Projects include a 650-seat auditorium and two-court gym, a new cafeteria/auditorium and two new classrooms.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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