Jul 28, 2014
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Turf Money OK Draws a Standing Ovation

Haddonfield's commissioners approve $356,000 toward turf fields at the high school, in a move that draws both delight and disgust among resides on opposite ends of the playing field.

Turf Money OK Draws a Standing Ovation

Two hours of passionate commentary at Tuesday’s borough commissioners meeting for and against spending taxpayer money on turf fields came down to a quick, unanimous vote: Haddonfield will fork over $356,000 to resurface the fields.

Supporters leapt to their feet in a standing ovation after the commissioners cast their votes, cheering what they see as a vital step to promoting sports in town and protecting athletes from injury. Among those applauding were many student-athletes who took to the microphone to recount injuries, tripping over rocks and competitive disadvantages they all attributed to subpar grass fields.

The commissioners’ vote allows the Turf Field Committee, a citizens group, to continue its fundraising efforts for the project, which will install turf at ’s stadium field and adjacent Anniversary Field. The borough owns the latter.

When the borough’s allotment is combined with the school board’s $150,000 payment, already OK’d, taxpayers will fund $506,000 of the estimated $1 million project. The Turf Field Committee pledged to raise $500,000 on its own, and the project is contingent on the group doing so.

Read more public comments on the turf proposal at
" Sound Off: Residents Take Their Positions on Turf Fields"

Walking into Tuesday’s meeting, supporters could feel of “aye” votes from Commissioners Tish Colombi and Ed Borden, while Commissioner Jeff Kasko was something of a wildcard.

Kasko acknowledged certain misgivings about the project, which has whipped through the school board and borough government lightning fast compared to most large undertakings. If it was up to him, Kasko added, he would table the resolution to allow more time to consider the many issues that residents raised.

“However … I am going to give you my full support to move forward with this initiative, to raise the private contributions and to move this forward,” he said. “I hope you do well.”

Borden felt no such ambivalence, calling his vote an “easy decision for me.” No other group has ever come forward to guarantee $500,000 in private funding for a project, he noted.

‘It’s about time we get a nice upgrade’

Before the vote, about 30 residents shared their views with the commissioners. Although the police chief sat in the corner to monitor the meeting, residents mostly behaved outside of heckling some critics at times.

The pro turf side outweighed the critics by a 3:1 ratio. Parents spoke of watching their children trip and struggle on uneven fields, student-athletes complained of twisted ankles and torn ligaments and coaches recounted watching their teams advance to championship matches, only to lose to teams with more playing experience on turf fields.

“The Haddonfield Memorial High School football team has been playing now for over 100 years on the same field and I think it’s about time we get a nice upgrade for that field,” said high school football player Charlie O’Neill. “Our football field has been a mess for a long time. It’s full of lumps, holes and is generally an uneven surface that is dangerous and hard to play on.

“My father swears that I turned my ankle on some of the same holes he did during practice 30 years ago.”

Turf advocates also framed the debate as an investment in Haddonfield student-athletes’ futures. Residents repeatedly deemed the borough’s fields “the worst in South Jersey” despite Haddonfield’s reputation for athletic prowess. Turf Field Committee fundraising head Joe Del Duca said the group isn’t asking for facilities “commensurate to (athletes’) talent and success” but simply for adequate facilities.

“We make an investment of a half-million dollars …. When you have one child do something on a turf field at Haddonfield and get a (college) scholarship, that’s a hell of a return on investment,” resident Bob Kiep said. “I think there is a possibility of that happening.”

Critics have their say

But detractors weren’t convinced that turf fields are the way to go. Resident Heather Vaughn raised the issue of turf fields’ composition.

“There’s a lot of really horrible, hazardous chemicals. The recycled crumb rubber contains a number of chemicals that are known or suspected to cause adverse health effects,” Vaughn said, adding that cleaning agents have additional chemicals, but are necessary to remove bodily fluids, animal droppings and bacteria that gather on turf surfaces. “Materials that decompose on grass do not decompose on turf.”

A Potter Street resident said she supports revamped fields, but questions whether turf is the right way to go.

“Everyone seems to talk about turf fields not needing maintenance and we’re going to save costs on maintenance—if it’s maintained properly,” she said. “I’m not exactly sure everyone understands what’s involved in that and who’s going to be doing it.”

The costs aren’t one-time, she added. Turf fields are guaranteed for eight years and usually last about 10. Will taxpayers be on the hook for $1 million when that time is up, she questioned.

It also came down to money for George Passes, who said it’s hard to condemn the project that has so many student-athletes passionate. But, he added, the borough will soon face a decision on the Bancroft property, which could end up being a very costly project, plus rising taxes.

“There is a tide moving forward to spend monies. That’s where spending the half-million dollars at this point makes it difficult,” Passes said.

Moving forward

Turf Field Committee’s Del Duca tried to address each objection he heard over the past several days, . They included using open space money to finance the project (that’s the borough commissioners’ call, he said), the board of education paying less (the board will absorb the long-term costs, making the borough’s contribution a one-time deal, Del Duca said) and reported higher injury rates on turf (people are using selective data, according to Del Duca).

Above all, supporters took exception to the idea that the Turf Field Committee railroaded the project through without taking the time to consider the issue. The committee has worked for two years, but often behind the scenes until it came time to ask for funding, committee members said.

“The time to do this is now. I guarantee you will have to do turf fields eventually,” resident Dave Ragone said. “But if you do it two, three, five years from now, you won’t have the benefit of Joe Del Duca and his committee.”

Did the borough commissioners make the right decision? Are you pro-turf or anti-turf, and did Tuesday’s meeting change your mind either way? Tell us in the comments.

 

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