Mt. Pleasant Board of Ed Forecasts $9.1M Bond for Fields Revamp

We are part of The Trust Project

By Ed Perratore

A conceptual rendering of the capital improvements proposed for the Westlake High School and Westlake Middle School campus.

The Mount Pleasant Board of Education provided a firsthand look at the school district’s plans to renovate its athletic fields last Wednesday with a likely bond next spring estimated at $9.1 million.

The board’s plans were met with mostly positive reviews after a presentation at the Westlake High School auditorium. Many parents have called the project long overdue.

The project, if approved by voters, would install artificial turf on the Westlake campus’s primary football/soccer/lacrosse field and outfit the other fields with better drainage and irrigation, laying down fresh sod and seed as appropriate. New dugouts, bleachers, paved walkways and field lighting are also in the plans.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kurtis Kotes painstakingly cautioned the audience that myriad variables could raise the price – or trim the list of improvements district officials would like to make. Unanticipated construction expenses and other uncertainties along with environmental concerns – part of the Westlake campus lies in New York City’s watershed – could increase the cost of the project.

“There are many different variables that still need to be decided before that ($9.1 million) number goes before the public,” Kotes said.

Trustees also hope to identify components of the project that might qualify for grants.

“What it’s going to boil down to,” Kotes said, “is what portion of the project will become aidable, what pieces of the work must we include in the project to make sure that we can maximize building aid…ultimately, to minimize the tax impact for any potential work.”

Erik E. Boe, director of civil engineering at LAN Associates of Midland Park, N.J., the architectural firm retained by the district, presented a conceptual plan along with representatives from construction management firm Arris Contracting Company, Inc. (ACCI) of Poughkeepsie.

Boe summarized artificial turf’s advantages over traditional grass, including lower maintenance costs, better durability, faster drainage after storms and no need for pesticides and fertilizers.

“One of the major reasons a school district would propose the installation of an artificial turf field is that the grass field, to keep it looking nice year-round, needs to be limited in its use, whereas an artificial turf field can be used basically 24 hours a day,” Boe said.

He also listed a handful of drawbacks, such as heating up faster in the summer, higher upfront costs than establishing a grass playing field and the need to hire a specialized professional for installation.

“Some people also prefer the feel of fresh grass,” he said.

Artificial turf for the main field would be installed with striping for football, soccer and lacrosse, Boe added. The main field would also receive a new track, a set of visiting team bleachers and lights for nighttime events.

Two other fields on the campus are also slated for transformation, though the difference might initially be less apparent. Two fields now used for soccer, lacrosse and practice football – labeled B and C on the conceptual rendering – would be expanded to regulation size, with new sod laid as needed. The baseball and softball fields would get new dugouts and paved walkways for visitors’ convenience.

There would also be improved drainage and irrigation, Boe said. The solution, referred to as sand slit drainage, would siphon rainwater and keep the fields playable.

“Our understanding is that these fields, after a rain event or at certain times of the year, are nonplayable because of their wet condition,” he said.

Trustees came armed with questions. Board of Education President Colleen Scaglione Neglia asked how long the sand slit drainage would be effective as well as the average life span of artificial turf fields.

Boe replied that warranties typically ranged from eight to 12 years and is based on GMax, a safety measurement of the bounce of the field. After that, he said, “the blades tend to get a little shabby.” At that point the infill, usually crumb rubber made from ground-up tires, is vacuumed, the blades are replaced and the infill is restored.

Neglia asked to visit neighboring districts with similar surfaces and possibly talk to some of the athletes. Boe assured her that turf manufacturers are eager to set up those meetings, since it helps business.

While most residents were supportive of the bond, some weren’t pleased with the prospect of another multimillion-dollar bond so soon after the district’s 2016 big-ticket referendum. Two residents, who did not identify themselves, argued that the bond would likely increase already steep school taxes and assailed district officials for opting to improve sports facilities instead of raising the educational level.

Such complaints, however, represented the minority viewpoint, particularly once Boe clarified several misconceptions about the scope of the work.

“I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve had to pay other districts to go play our games on their fields because they have turf and we are one of the last districts in the county that do not have it,” said John Piazza, a Valhalla-based contractor. “We’re getting the brunt of (these costs) now because it needs to be done. Thirty, 40 years ago, they didn’t keep it up to date, didn’t keep it going with repairs. While other districts were putting money into their districts, we didn’t. So now, fast-forward 30 years, we’re catching this now.”

Former trustee Terry Fowler, a Hawthorne resident, maintained that while taxes would increase, home prices within the district would rise as well.

“Anytime you do anything to a school district, it increases your property value,” she said. “We need this as part of the curriculum. I mean, I’ve been at games with my granddaughters, and they just slip and slide all over when it rains. They have to call the games and everything else because of it. That’s a danger.”

Kotes had said previously that the referendum would not be the same day as the annual budget vote and Board of Education election, which next year is Tuesday, May 19.

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