After a decade of false starts, the Fair Lawn Board of Education is moving ahead to construct a long-sought synthetic field at the high school by next school year.
The synthetic field has been on the board’s agenda since 2002, Superintendent Bruce Watson said. The board included it in its long range facilities plan (LRFP) that year, setting it as a priority for the fund the district sets aside for capital improvements.
“We’ve utilized the plan religiously as we’ve gone through and tackled all of the projects that we needed,” Watson said. “[The synthetic field] was a project that we wanted to do years ago, and we just didn’t get around to it.”
The board put synthetic turf on the ballot for referendum twice, and voters defeated the proposal in 2002 and 2004. In the interim, the item remained on the LRFP plan until other priority items, such as new boilers and roofs for district schools, could be taken care of.
Now that the board feels it has enough savings to pursue the project without compromising other facility maintenance, it has decided to move forward on the project. Money allocated to the LRFP can only be used for capital improvements, Watson said, and not, for example, on school textbooks.
According to the contractor working with the district, the average lifespan of such a field, which has a projected cost of about $600,000, is around 12 years, and will save the district as much as $50,000 in annual maintenance costs—a financial break-even on the first go-around. But as almost half the upfront costs will pay for drainage and excavation work—unnecessary to repeat in the field’s replacement—the district expects it to begin paying for itself in the long run.
But money was not the primary motivation for the project, Watson says.
“If you look at Bergen County, a majority of the high schools already have synthetic turf,” he told Patch. “And the reason why is that all students have an opportunity to utilize it.”
Grass fields are limited in the amount of sports teams that can use them in a given season, since natural grass wears out quickly and has a limited capacity. According to high school athletic director Cory Robinson, only one team is currently able to use the grass field per season—football in the fall and lacrosse in the spring.
With a synthetic field, he says, other teams will have access to the main field for use when poor weather conditions make the grass fields unusable. “It’s a win-win situation. Most teams that need it are going to have access to it.”
Preventing injuries was also a motivation for moving forward on the synthetic turf, Watson said. “Fair Lawn doesn’t have many fields, and the fields we do have are all reused. And we’ve had over the years injuries on the fields because you can’t maintain them when they’re constantly being used.”
Robinson pointed out that new synthetic fields, which contain layers of sand and rubber beneath the surface, are far less dangerous than the old Astroturf commonly associated with injuries.
“The turf fields that I played on, and a lot of the kids' parents might have played on,” he said recalling the turf fields of the eighties, “are totally different from what the fields are nowadays.”
“Over the years research has shown that injuries such as ACL tears, knees, ankles, and concussions have all been tremendously reduced on that surface,” Watson, a former football coach, agreed.
Now that the capital improvement money is available, the board will approve an architect for the project on Thursday and include the projected costs in the budget for next year, which will be finalized in March. Construction could be completed within the duration of the summer, in time for fall sports.