Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

CHS and sports clubs make pitch for artificial turf at stadium

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By VICKI URBANIK

A coalition of youth clubs, school officials and community members have resurrected a proposal from 2008 to install artificial turf at the Chesterton High School football field, a pricey proposition that backers say would be well worth the investment.

In a detailed presentation before the Duneland School Board Monday, Duneland Athletic Director Gary Nallenweg and other turf supporters said the artificial surface would greatly reduce field maintenance costs, significantly increase the use of the field by school and community groups, reduce student injuries and minimize conflicts with competing use of the field.

Nallenweg conceded that the estimated price tag of $750,000 to $850,000, is a “tremendous expense,” but said the cost would be offset by the benefits for Duneland’s kids and community.

“It is a cost effective investment,” he said.

The school board took no actual vote on the project, but by consensus agreed that the turf supporters could officially launch their fundraising efforts toward the project. As Duneland Superintendent Dirk Baer put it, the group should return at the school board’s next meeting on May 16 with a firmer commitment of how much they will raise toward the project to “make it very hard for this board to say no.”

The turf supporters have already formed a 501(c)3 non-profit group called Friends of Duneland Youth. They have filed their corporation papers with the Secretary of State’s office and designed a fundraising flier intended to be mailed out to local households. But Nallenweg said the efforts haven’t gone public yet on purpose, since the Friends group didn’t want to start soliciting for donations without a clear signal from the school board.

Nallenweg said that preliminarily, the Friends have about $76,000 in funding commitments from their contacts and feel that they could raise a total of $250,000. Duneland Schools would be expected to fund whatever isn’t raised by donations, likely by tapping its Capital Projects Fund. Nallenweg and Baer both stressed that no operating funds would be touched, and no other school program would be negatively affected.

Financial Details

In a power point presentation, Nallenweg presented a host of statistics to bolster the case that artificial turf can make financial sense.

The artificial turf has an estimated life of 12 to 15 years and is warrantied for eight years. After the turf carpet wears out, the replacement cost is roughly $300,000.

The annual maintenance costs for the grass field is now about $52,500, which includes labor, watering, pesticides and herbicides. By contrast, the maintenance costs for artificial turf are projected to be no more than $5,000. Another set of statistics, detailing the costs for Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind., showed that the school spent $39,000 a year to maintain its grassy field, compared to $1,000 a year for the turf.

A coordinated effort is planned by the Friends of the Duneland Youth to raise as much as possible to offset the cost to taxpayers. One option, outlined by Nallenweg and Zack Wellsand, would be to replace a 16 by 8 foot section of concrete with a brick or paver walkway leading into the stadium. The turf field donors would be honored with their names engraved on the bricks in varying sizes based on the level of contribution, with the smaller bricks representing $100 donors and larger ones, $500 or more.

Wellsand said the paver project could raise $81,000 total, netting about 80 percent after costs. The brick project could be expanded in succeeding years as well, said CHS head football coach John Snyder.

Other groups expected to use the new field have already committed funding: Mark O’Dell, president of the Duneland Soccer Club, said the club would pledge $5,000, while Matt Westergren, president of the Football Boosters Club, said the club could write a check immediately for $10,000. William Hayman, president of Duneland Pop Warner, pledged another $10,000.

John Andershock, president of the Friends of Duneland Youth, said the group will seek donors in a well-planned, coordinated and professional manner. The fundraising efforts will be divided up in three ways: A corporate donor group, and an individual and family donor group, and grants.

One possible grant would be to seek a portion of the proceeds of the sale of Porter Memorial Hospital, Andershock said.

Widespread Benefit

Various speakers emphasized that the artificial turf would not just benefit CHS football but would have community wide benefits -- from youth soccer clubs to CHS graduation ceremonies to band competitions.

“Everyone benefits,” Snyder said.

Unlike the natural field, the artificial turf can be used every day year round. As it is now, the field is often closed down during or after bad weather. The ruts and drainage problems that often result with the grassy field would be eliminated with the consistent surface of artificial turf. And so too would the problems of having to reschedule or move games when the field is unusable, the supporters said.

Nallenweg said the CHS field is now used no more than 100 hours total per year. An artificial turf, on the other hand, is warrantied for 3,000 hours yearly.

One of the groups expected to benefit is the CHS Music Department. The band and the Band Boosters “wholeheartedly endorse” the turf due to the conflicts that band has encountered with the current field, said Lisa Scheiber, wife of band director Michael Scheiber, who was absent at the school board meeting since he was with the CHS Band at Valparaiso University’s annual Jazz Festival.

Scheiber said that since the new CHS opened, the band has been able to use the field only three times for its competitions -- and not always successfully. She relayed the problem in 2009 when, as a host school for the Indiana State School Music Association band competition, CHS had to move the event to a blacktop lot because the stadium field was unusuable. The ISSMA event typically raises about $60,000 for the band each year, but that year, the loss was at least $18,000. She said if the event has to be moved again if the field is closed, band directors would likely eliminate CHS as a host school in favor of other schools with the more dependable surface.

Several speakers said the smooth surface of artificial turf is safer for students and easier on the joints than the harder, natural field with its many ruts and depressions.

Andershock raised another issue: With the ongoing trend in Indiana to allow families to choose where to send their children to school, the availability of good facilities, and programs such as band, could be a factor as to which schools are considered the most attractive.

Time is of the Essence

Following the presentation, it was clear that some school board members felt that the board needs to take more time to mull over the proposal.

Board member Michael Trout said there is no doubt about the benefits of artificial turf, but that he doesn’t believe that the project could be fast tracked for completion this year, as several of the supporters suggested. He said he’d like to see the Friends of Duneland Youth fine tune their funding commitment.

Snyder said that if the project went through the normal bid process, it likely would not be completed this year. But if Duneland uses a school cooperative pricing system as proposed, the turf companies have indicated that the new field could, in fact, be in place for this fall.

Several speakers said they’d like to know if the project is doable as soon as possible. Andershock said that since the artificial turf is a petroleum based product, the costs could begin to climb given the rising oil prices. Nallenweg also noted that the group doesn’t want to get serious about soliciting funds, without knowing for sure how the school board feels.

Baer said the decision is up to the school board, but that he’s personally “all for it.” However, he said the only way the project could move forward is through ample community support, with the understanding that any funds committed to the turf project would not detract from other school projects.

“The community support all revolves around dollars and cents,” he said.

The school board designated board member Ron Stone to work with the Friends group to review the financial information in detail, and agreed that the group could begin soliciting from the community and report back at the next meeting.

 

 

 

 

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