BRATTLEBORO — Plans to resurface Natowich Field are being shaped to take the “natural” path.
On Tuesday, the Windham Southeast School District Board approved a motion to direct school administrators and the business administrator to “resuscitate” the field with sod/natural grass. Board members indicated they don’t want synthetic turf for the project.
Henry Zacchini, a social studies teacher at Brattleboro Union High School, told the board he and many others would strongly oppose a synthetic field. He said students who play on the surface are more prone to injuries, and the chemicals used in the manufacturing can be harmful to students and the environment.
“My understanding is we have to do something,” Board Chairwoman Kelly Young said in response to Zacchini’s questioning on why the issue returned after controversial discussions years ago. “This board is different than the board having touched on it before the pandemic.”
Board members discussed the potential for starting a committee to explore the project or resurrecting the Climate Crisis Task Force. Windham Southeast Supervisory Union Business Administrator Frank Rucker and Superintendent Mark Speno called for urgency. Speno said the need for resurfacing has to do with the growing sports programs and challenges with facilitating them in an equitable way.
Field experts currently are being consulted to rearrange Tenney Field. Speno said home plate could be moved back 15 to 30 feet toward the backstop, creating a larger outfield on the baseball field, which can then be used for soccer and field hockey games, where the dirt infield wouldn’t come into play.
“That would open up more opportunities for different varsity sports to play under the lights and also to play on a field that supports the requirements of those sports,” he said. “At the same time, we understand that the grandstand has been depleting away for a number of years and has not been addressed.”
Speno said the hope is to turn the grandstand at Tenney Field into “a multi-faceted space” to include outdoor classrooms, locker rooms for away teams and usable bathrooms.
“I’m not married to synthetic field,” he said. “I want to do what’s best for kids and what accommodates this campus. I think we all do.”
Administrators will “synthesize” recommendations from professionals on Natowich Field before bringing them before the board, Rucker said. Funds have already been budgeted in the capital plan to start the project.
Board member Shaun Murphy said Wednesday that meeting criteria for an “organic” field, as discussed at one point in the meeting, is “not a realistic option because you can’t use chemical fertilizers and insecticides on a field for a long period of time — like decades.”
Kim Price, the only board member to vote against the motion, said Wednesday that she do so “as I did not feel the public was aware that the board would be making a decision regarding the field last night.”
“Proponents on both sides should be given a chance to voice their opinion on a topic, when it is clear the board will be taking a vote on an item that has been strongly debated on all sides since 2019,” she said. “I also feel we should be looking at all options for the field. If we take the time to present all possibilities, we will be able to have a clear and concise final decision that would allow all voices to feel heard as well as allow the board to feel we have made the correct decision for our students and community.”