Chesterton Tribune

Duneland School Board approves synthetic turf

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Synthetic turf is coming to the Chesterton High School football field.

The Duneland School Board on Monday unanimously approved the estimated $750,000 project, after hearing a report about the fundraising efforts by the non-profit Friends of Duneland Youth.

Duneland Athletic Director Garry Nallenweg said so far, $110,000 has been raised, with the money either in hand or in the bank, with commitments for another $72,000 pledged by four local youth organizations over the next few years. The donation drive will continue, he said. “Money continues to come in,” he said.

Duneland Superintendent Dirk Baer said the school corporation will plan for its contribution to be up to $650,000, with the amount reduced based on more fundraising by the Friends. He said the school funding will come from its Rainy Day Fund, which largely consists of Capital Projects Fund money left over from various projects. The Rainy Day Fund now totals about $4 million, he said.

Nallenweg and other members of the Friends of Duneland Youth described the community support for the project as overwhelming. Of the $110,000 firmly raised so far, Nallenweg said $85,000 has come from various clubs in the community and another $20,000 from individuals contributing toward the brick campaign, in which donors’ names will be engraved on bricks leading into the stadium.

As they did at the last school board meeting, the Friends of Duneland Youth characterized the new turf as a community project that will open up the field to many more uses than the current grass field, which often must be shut down for drainage or other maintenance needs.

In fact, CHS Football Coach John Snyder said, the Portage Schools have warned him that the football team will probably use the new turf field the least.

Nallenweg said because the synthetic turf can be used almost non-stop, the estimated usage over a three-month period in the fall has been projected at around 400 hours, compared to the maximum usage of 108 hours with the natural field. The field will be opened up to a broad variety of uses, ranging from Duneland Soccer to Pop Warner to band, he said.

“I can’t imagine that there’s an end to the usage,” Snyder added.

The Friends of the Duneland Youth promised to keep up the fundraising to minimize the costs to the school corporation.

John Andershock, president of the Friends, said he’s been overwhelmed by the amount of community support and the heartfelt messages that some people want on their donor bricks.

But he also said that many donors haven’t wanted to donate yet, until they know for sure that the project is a go. He said the Friends still have some “big pockets” of possible donations to go after.

Despite some Voices of the People letters recently criticizing the high-cost project when the Duneland Schools have battled significant state funding shortfalls, no one at Monday’s school board meeting spoke out against the project.

One audience member, Duneland Teachers Association co-president Michele Bartels, did ask about the source of funding. She questioned if the Rainy Day Fund is limited to capital projects only.

Baer responded that when the fund was first established, the school board intended it to be used for capital projects, but that the board has the authority to use the funding for other purposes.

School Board member Mike Trout, who made the motion to proceed with the project, said he’s amazed at the amount of money the Friends have raised. With such a funding commitment pledged, “how can we say no?” he said.

Trout also said that the synthetic turf has been discussed ever since the new CHS was built and that it will be a community asset, not just a school asset. “We do have the money to make the difference up,” he said.

School Board President Janice Custer emphasized that the school funding won’t come out of the general fund, which is now funded by the state and the main fund that pays teacher salaries and other operating costs. Custer said use of the Rainy Day Funds for the turf field won’t take away from academics.

A representative from the company selected to install the new field, Field Turf, said unless there are unforeseen problems with the soil borings and other engineering work, the new field should be installed in plenty of time for the start of the new school year in the fall.

The vote to proceed was unanimous, with Custer, Trout, Ralph Ayres, Nick Jurasevich and Ron Stone voting yes. After the school board approved the project, the audience broke into a round of applause.



Posted 5/17/2011