Turf's up! Synthetic turf approved at NLS
NEW LONDON — Synthetic turf will be installed next year on the New London-Spicer School football field.
On a 6-1 vote Monday, the board approved the project after hearing from a strong contingent of supporters during the last couple months.
The project, estimated at $600,000 to $740,000, will be paid for with a 10-year lease levy. A $60,000 donation from the sports booster club will offset most of the cost for the first year's payment.
Board member Holli Cogelow Ruter said when the project was first proposed, she did not support it and would have voted against it. But she said 90 percent of people who contacted her want the turf.
"It's very-well supported right now and it's exciting to see so much support," she said.
Board member Cherrish Holland said 95 percent of the correspondence she has had on the proposal has been positive.
"I've heard the support and a tiny bit of concern," said Holland, adding that she did not support the project only so the football field could have artificial turf but as a way to increase students' opportunities for physical education classes, recess and new sports such as soccer and lacrosse.
Dan Essler, head football coach, said the football field is the "best acre of land that we have and we don't use it very often."
The board was told that by making it an all-purpose field with synthetic turf, it can be used all day long from early spring to late fall instead of preserving it for Friday night football games.
Based on the experience of other schools that have synthetic turf, it's expected the district will see new revenue by leasing the field to outside groups looking for a field that's not subject to rain and mud.
Board Chairman Robert Moller, who said he "tried to remain somewhat neutral" on the proposal, said he initially heard from "a lot of people who were opposed to it."
But he said as details about the project became public, the response changed to being "very positive."
Moller still had concerns about adding new costs to taxpayers for the project without getting voter approval.
In making a motion to approve the project, Moller tried to add several stipulations including putting a 10 percent surcharge onto the ticket price of events held at the field.
The revenue of that surcharge — as well as any money generated from advertising or naming rights on the field — would go toward reducing the lease levy payments and for future replacement of the turf field.
After voicing concerns the stipulations would create complicated accounting issues for the school and tie the hands of future boards, the motion died for a lack of a second.
Board member Dan DeGeest, who was in California and joined the meeting through FaceTime, made a motion to approve the proposal as presented "without any strings attached."
Board member Naomi Johnson, who has frequently questioned the health and safety factors of synthetic turf, cast the only no vote.
Timing was one factor for moving ahead with the turf project next summer.
Because they had previously budgeted replacement of the track that circles the field, the board said if a turf project is to be done, it makes sense to do it at the same time as the track.
Another factor was the board's final decision Monday to create a new road between the elementary school and high school/middle school for one-way bus traffic.
The road will reduce the size of the existing practice fields, which will be offset by having a synthetic football field.
Because construction of a performing arts theater and new gym is also underway on the campus, the grounds are already torn up and will not be harmed further by bringing in additional excavation equipment.
After deciding to include the road and turf projects in the budget, the board approved the 2017 tax levy of $4,101,606. That represents a 0.16 percent increase over last year.