Concerns voiced on synthetic turf plan for BUHS field

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BRATTLEBORO — Community concerns about a synthetic surface proposed for Natowich Field at Brattleboro Union High School have school board members wanting to leave other options open.

"This is going to take a long time," David Schoales, a member of the Windham Southeast School District Board of Directors, said Wednesday during a meeting. "You know, we're not going to get this settled tonight."

The board was considering a motion to have requests for proposals include quotes for natural grass, crumb rubber infill and sustainable alternatives. An amendment to remove the grass option failed and discussion was tabled after an amendment was being made around exploring the potential for buying another field near the school.

Board Chairwoman Kristina Naylor suggested there would not be enough time to talk about the issue and get to other agenda items. The topic is expected to come up at the first board meeting in September; that will push the bid process into later in the fall.

"It's not necessarily a problem," said Frank Rucker, business administrator for Windham Southeast Supervisory Union. "It's kind of the tail end that would allow for the improvement next July."

The Brattleboro Union High School board included the project in its budget, and borrowing up to $750,000 was approved by voters during a meeting in June before the BUHS district dissolved to merge with the WSESD the following month. The estimated price tag for a synthetic surface is about $1.1 million. The cost for other options was not discussed.

School officials say the project has been in the pipeline for more than a decade and it would allow for the field to be used more — for additional sports, longer durations and community purposes. Opponents worry about the cost, safety and potential toxicity in materials.

"While there's a lot of anecdotes," said Chris Sawyer, school athletic director, "there's no studies linking crumb rubber to cancer."

Gus Williams, captain of the boys soccer and lacrosse teams, said all student athletes would be given the ability to play under lights. He called it "a great feeling."

Robert Clark, facility manager at the school, said the field would keep students on campus. That would allow them to use the bathrooms and have space to get changed.

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Ron Svec of Dummerston, who coaches junior varsity girls soccer, insisted that the board make improvements because Tenney Field — used now for lacrosse, soccer and field hockey — is "inappropriate." The thought is that teams playing those sports would be able to use Natowich after upgrades are made. Currently, the field is only used for football.

Kate O'Connor of Brattleboro urged the board to look into the expense of the synthetic turf. Henry Zacchini, a social studies teacher at the high school and a parent, worried how much repairs and maintenance would cost in the future.

"If we didn't have this habit of spending $1 million on silly things, we wouldn't have had Act 46," Kurt Daims of Brattleboro said of the controversial state law that brought about the merger of school districts in Brattleboro, Dummerston, Guilford and Putney.

Zacchini called crumb rubber fields "a waste product of the petrochemical industry" while an attendee said the materials come from trees. Tim Maciel of Brattleboro shared studies on injuries related to synthetic turf.

After members of the public weighed in, board members began making motions related to the request for proposals (RFP). Principal Steve Perrin said he understood why board members wanted to look at natural turf but that would not increase playing time or expand access.

"I don't know that a grass option on this RFP is in the scope of what we're looking at," he said. "We're not looking at natural turf."

Sawyer joined Perrin in asking the board not to seek grass options, saying "it does not help our situation."

"It's not prudent or responsible," he added.

Board member Shaun Murphy said if the field stays with natural turf, it will only be used for football and that would mean only about 20 games. Schoales suggested a stronger grass may hold up better.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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