Plainfield School Board had a heated discussion over artificial turf Monday night with school board President Stuart Bledsoe saying the board has yet to receive the information requested in April.
Bledsoe wants to know how much money the district has spent to repair and maintain the stadium fields at each of the four high schools, saying the fields are in poor condition and many games had to be moved to another site which is an embarrassment.
Bledsoe believes installing artificial turf will save the district money. However, school board members Eric Gallt and Mike Kelly said installing turf will not save the district money in the long run because turf has to be replaced every 10 years. Instead artificial turf allows districts to use the fields for other activities beyond football, such as band and P.E. classes.
Bledsoe disagreed that turf wouldn't save money.
"When our fields get shut down because they are unusable, we have to send our athletes to other fields which means bus rides and which means scheduling man hours to fix those fields," he said.
"We don't have numbers in front of and that's what we asked for," Bledsoe said. "We have no idea what they're spending on (Plainfield South High School) that's been shut down three times this year because of repairs. ... Unless we have real numbers, we can't have this conversation about what we are not saving and what we won't save.
"We were promised it in July. Here it is September. How come we haven't gotten it yet," Bledsoe asked.
Kelly said while he would like to see turf installed at the high schools, he can't agree to that and layoff employees next school year to balance a $6.7 million deficit.
School board member Roger Bonuchi clarified that the money for the artificial turf would come from the $252.1 million construction funds provided by the March 2006 referendum. Those funds cannot be used to save jobs, but can improve school facilities.
Out of that money, the district came under budget by $19 million when it built three elementaries, John F. Kennedy Middle School and Plainfield East High School. That money can be used to repair buildings as stated in the referendum langauge. Galt said the $19 million should be used to repair the district's aging buildings because the board can't rely on a referendum for more funds.
Politically, Gallt said it's a bad idea to use the money to install turf when the district is expected to layoff more employees. Personally, Gallt said he would like to see turf installed because his sons are soccer players and they play better on turf. But for the district as a whole, he's against it.
"Whether it's a big grey elephant or not, it's something we need to look at," Bledsoe said. "We have to look at hard costs of numbers - of what we're spending every year, fixing these fields. Instead of just sitting here saying, 'Well, it's not a good idea to talk about spending millions of money right now' ... It's the best idea. It really is."
School board member Michelle Smith also supports turf.
"For me, it's not about money. It's about the safety of our kids," she said. "Our fields are in horrible shape. Our kids can't play on them. They're awful. When you walk them, they're terrible."
Smith said if the board decides not to install artificial turf, then the district should make the fields safer.
Superintendent John Harper directed Joel Murphy, director of facilities, to read aloud items that he will give to the board at its next meeting at 7:30 p.m. Oct 12 at Central Elementary School, 23723 Getson Drive in Plainfield.
Murphy will get:
- The number of activities that had to be relocated to other venues.
- Identify community groups willing to invest in installing turf, what they are willing to invest and what are their expectations are.
- To identify a vendor to do an evaluation of each of the high school's fields and get cost estimates for installing turf.
- Annual cost of maintenance of the fields at each high school stadium.
- Cost estimate of making the grass fields more playable for a greater number of days.
- Contact Plainfield Park District to get the list of their community groups that use their facilities as a possible funding source.
"The board's been waiting and we're going to provide it," Harper said.