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School Board Allocates $1.9 mm for Replacement of Synthetic Turf

corkfillA special meeting of the Scarsdale Board of Education to discuss the future of the synthetic turf and surrounding track at SHS drew a passionate crowd on Tuesday April 10. The first synthetic field was installed 13 years ago is beyond its useful life and badly in need of replacement. The existing field was installed after a community wide fundraising campaign to finance Scarsdale’s first synthetic field which allowed for more playing time and an extended outdoor season. At the time, the crumb rubber surface was state of the art, but in the intervening years concerns have been raised about the safety, health risks and sustainability of recycled rubber turfs.

Now 13 years later, the school district needs to replace the surface and some community members raised the health risks of crumb rubber surfaces including off gassing, exposure to toxins and excessive heat. In the proposed 2018-19 school budget, the board had allocated $1.2 million to replace the turf, but after residents comments, the administration asked their architects to provide pricing for crumb rubber and alternative surfaces, including organic infill and natural turf – also known as grass.

With the Board’s budget vote only a week away, and a commitment to the community to replace the turf in the fall, the Board scheduled an extra meeting to decide how much more needed to be allocated for the field in next year’s budget. Though the field is technically Village –owned property, it is up to the school to maintain it.

Athletic Director Ray Pappalardi presented a usage report showing how many hours per week the synthetic turf is used for physical education, interscholastic activities and community programs. He ran through an analysis of the loss of playing if the synthetic field were replaced with natural grass that is not suitable for play when it is wet or muddy. If the district decided to reinstall the grass, Pappalardi estimated a loss or “displaced use” of 39 hours per week. As it is already challenging to find any field to schedule in Scarsdale, many of the people in the audience found this tradeoff unacceptable.

Pappalardi outlined the factors to be used in making the turf decision which were:

  • Usage
  • Health and Safety
  • Cost
  • Sustainability
  • Community Relations

Next the Board invited a landscape architect from BBS to outline options for replacement of the turf field. He explained that the turf is actually a large carpet with plastic blades of grass. These plastic grass fibers are held in place by a layer of silica sand topped with infill made from crumb rubber, EPDM, TPE, or something organic like coconut husks, cork or olive pits. He gave a lengthy presentation about the benefits and drawbacks of each of these infill options, discussing their performance, safety profile, maintenance needs, aesthetics and costs.

Scarsdale’s turf is currently made of black crumb rubber which is Scarsdale’s least expensive synthetic option. However, this FieldTurfsurface has come into question as it is made from recycled car tires, emits gasses, causes abrasions and is hot. A second alternative, coated crumb rubber, comes in colors that make it cooler than the black turf but still pose the risks of recycled rubber.

A few of the other alternative presented have not been on the market long enough for meaningful studies to be done on safety and performance. Among these are EPDM, (Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer) which is manufactured from virgin rubber along with TPE, (Thermo Plastic Elastomer) which has been approved for use in NYC parks.

Rather than using inorganic fill, some school districts have opted for organic fill comprised of coconut husks, cork of olive pits. The benefit is that the organic fill is cooler, sustainable and does not emit toxins. The architect warned that the material tends to move after heavy rains and may require more maintenance and would also require irrigation during dry periods to prevent it from getting dusty. However, resident Michelle Sterling said she spoke to the facilities directors in Bronxville, Irvington and Pleasantville, where the organic fill was installed, and they all had only positive things to say about this turf.

Costs to remove the current turf and install these surfaces were estimated as follows by BBS, though Assistant Superintendent Stuart Mattey said that the district would need to put the project out to bid, and costs may vary.

Green Coated Crumb Rubber $1,466,349
EPDM with Shock Pad $1,716,942
Organic Infill with Shock Pad $1,900,249
Removal of Synthetic Turf, Replace with Grass $1,346,526

Following the presentation, a lively conversation ensued. Board members were given the chance to ask questions first. Lee Maude wanted to know if the track surrounding the turf needed to be replaced at the same time, and they answer was no, but that it would possibly be more efficient to do the two projects together.

Art Rublin asked Stuart Mattey if there were facilities projects in the current proposed budget that could be cut to pay for the turf? Mattey advised that the facilities work in the budget was all a priority and it would be” kicking the can down the road” to defer any of it to a later date.

Nina Cannon asked a question about a 8-10 foot net that will be installed around the turf to prevent balls from flying off the field onto the track. The architect said that this is common practice.

Almost two hours into the meeting, before opening the floor to public comments, Board President Bill Natbony said, “99% of the emails we got were to save our turf field. With that we have made no decisions. We’ll try to stay open to all kinds of qualifiers. We read your emails; believe me we’ve read them. I responded to people.” He asked people to limit their comments to 3 minutes and said, “If someone says something you agree with, you can get up and say me too.”

First up, was Beth Dell'Orto, a co-president of sports booster organization Maroon and White who read a statement from the M&W Board and past presidents that you can read in its entirety here. They asked the Board to research materials and to replace the turf field with a synthetic filed in time for Fall 2018 installation. They said that grass was not feasible as it requires more upkeep and is not always available to meet playing schedules and team requirements.

Rippy Phillips recounted the history of the first field and said that part of the deal was that the school would maintain it as a turf field forever. At the time, vending machines were installed at the middle school and high school to generate revenue for replacement of the turf, but that revenue was later assumed by the school cafeterias. He said the turf was “the town’s pride and joy.” He also said there was not evidence to link carcinogens in fields to cancer in the players.

Michelle Sterling spoke about the danger of crumb rubber surfaces including toxicity and off gassing, which causes the players to breath in chemicals. She said there was insufficient data on coated crumb rubber and EPDM and warned that TPE is a polymer of rubber and plastic that contains harmful chemicals. She said, “To me, hands down, organic infill is the way to go.” She said she spoke to representatives from Bronxville, Irvington and Pleasantville who all raved about their organic infill and said, “we’re thinking about health and safety … why wouldn’t we go with the highest GMax rating?” She said she was also an advocate for natural turf (grass) which never needs to be replaced.

Sterling explained that artificial turfs shed plastic fibers which are breathed in and ingested. She said that a study by Brigham and Young University found that the crumb rubber get very hot on warm days, sometimes over 100 degrees, while natural turf stays cool.

Claire Paquin a Scarsdale mom and SHS alumni said she played three varsity sports at SHS and now runs the youth lacrosse program in town. Since the younger children have to play on the grass fields at the middle school, she often walks the fields and finds them too wet to play. She spoke in favor of a turf field, saying “there is no definitive research “on the danger of turf fields. “Grass is off the table – we have a million grass fields that we can’t use. Why add another?”

Dan Ornstein, a board member of SYLA, said “finding fields is next to impossible. The grass fields are overused as it is. That’s why the turf field is getting a tremendous amount of usage. I hope grass is out. I have faith that you will make the right decision about the kind of turf. There hasn’t been a real concern about virgin rubber …. all the rubber is the same material that is used in everything we use.”

Ron Schulhof said, “After considerable research, I think we should go back to natural grass. Over time you start to hear concerns about inorganic surfaces. In five years, if we find out there is a health risk, it would not be a shock to me. It is not a tradeoff I think this community should make.”

Michael Crowley said “My kids have benefited from the athletic program. I have faith and confidence that you will make the right decision. Also repair the track at the same time – it is probably in the same level of disrepair and the track and field team has the most kids participating – and is used by the community 24 hours a day.”

Following the public comments, the board turned to a discussion of how much to allocate in the budget, while not immediately deciding on the surface which will be reviewed by a district wide community. Dr. Hagerman said it was important for the committee to do its work. He said, “There are coaches who work in different seasons … we need to build consensus by the committee and they can be cheerleaders about getting the message out to the community.”

Rublin felt that the community needed synthetic turf, but argued for the organic infill, saying he was not comfortable with any other fill than the organic infill.

Cannon wanted to give the committee more parameters – and asked that they only look at sustainable and organic options and consider the safe and health of whatever they choose. She also asked that the committee consider another option called Envirofill that has a 16-year warrantee.

Pam Feuhrer said, “We don’t have the EPA study results which are supposed to come out this spring… If the EPA says crumb rubber is healthy and safe, depending on their results we might have other thoughts,” to which Rublin replied, “Remember it’s Scott Pruitt’s EPA!”

Morin said that there were not conclusive results about the playability and safety of organic infill. He agreed that it should be an artificial turf field, not grass, and that the track should be done at the same time.

Bill reminded the Board that they did not have to decide on the surface at this meeting, just the funding in the budget. He said, “We owe it to the community to have a minimum placeholder (for funds) and a charge to the committee.”

Lee Maude said, “The administration should figure out the field. … we have to figure out the budget number; and now we’re at 2.65%. Just a few weeks ago we were at 2%. Unfortunately we had this budget process up to 3 or 4 weeks ago and then Florida happened and boom we put in $250 grand for safety and now we’re putting another $500 grand into the field. I am troubled about how we got here.”
Nina Cannon asked, “Is there something else that you could possibly defer?” Art Rublin asked if the money could be taken from the fund balance. Mattey recommended “no” to both questions.

After much discussion, the Board agreed to allocate $1.9 million for a synthetic field replacement in the proposed 2018/19 school budget. They directed the administration to form a committee of stakeholders to consider the materials. They have taken the options of grass turf and crumb rubber off the table. They also decided that the new track should be installed at the same time.

This decision to allocate $1.9 million to the turf raised the proposed 2018/19 school budget to $157,849,656, which is a budget to budget increase of 2.71% and a 2.74% increase in the tax levy. This will mean a 2.65% increase for Scarsdale residents and a 4.22% increase for those in the Mamaroneck strip.

After several years of minimal budget increases, the board found themselves without surplus reserves or fund balances to pay for necessary improvements while keeping tax increases at a minimum.

Watch the entire meeting on video here

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