City Hall packed with South students in final turf discussions

By Denebola
Published: September 2007

By Nathan Yeo

N ormally on the night before the first day of school, junior Derek Russell would have been hanging out, preparing for the year ahead. But on Wednesday, September 5, Russell and many other Newton South student athletes donned their orange and blue and headed for Newton City Hall.

The athletes crowded into a joint meeting of Board of Aldermen’s Programs and Services and Public Facilities committees to show their support for a $4,100,000 proposal known as Newturf that would equip Newton South with three synthetic turf fields.

Representatives from many of South’s athletics teams, including soccer, lacrosse, track, football, cross country, volleyball, baseball, field hockey, and cheerleading attended the meeting.

South’s new athletic director Scott Perrin encouraged them to come and show their support.

“It shows good spirit that everyone came out to support their school,” junior and soccer player Ben Bulka said.

The meeting lasted for three hours, by which time many athletes had left. By they end, the Aldermen had not voted, despite the efforts of Alderman Ken Parker to speed things along.

Before the proposal is voted on by the full Board of Aldermen, it will have to be approved by these two committees, as well as the Finance committee.
Mayor David Cohen opened the meeting by speaking favorably of the community building effect that athletics has.

“It turns a city of str angers into a community of neighbors and friends,” he said. Cohen voiced strong support for the measure he has championed, saying if it was passed, city would “benefit for decades to come.”

Newturf’s leader, Ted Tye, then presented the Aldermen with a slideshow outlining the Newturf proposal.

Tye said that the “deplorable conditions” on South’s fields are leading to a “domino effect” on Newton’s fields, displacing school and youth teams alike.

Tye added that with the construction of a new Newton North, North teams would also be displaced, further contributing to the problem.

Tye outlined the specifics of the Newturf proposal, which includes money for a competition field, a secondary field, and a baseball field with a multi-purpose field inside it.

The Newturf proposal would also fund renovations of Newton South’s track, which has suffered significant damage. Newturf however, would not create a synthetic turf field inside of the track, because, according to Tye, that field is not suitable for sports other than football.

Tye estimated that because of poor drainage on Newton South’s fields, South teams had to cancel around 15% of their games in 2005.

Instead of pooling and flowing into the nearby wetlands like it does on grass, rainwater would sink into the fields and would be captured by large pipes underneath for storage.

Another reason for the Aldermen to adopt the Newturf proposal, Tye said, was its cost effectiveness.

Tye pointed to the example of the New England Patriots, who, once famous for their natural turf, found it too difficult and costly to maintain, and so switched to artificial turf.

Tye asserted the city could save money by switching to artificial turf, and gave some rough estimations as to how long it would take for the city to profit.

Yet another reason the city should adopt the Newturf proposal, Tye said, was its safety record. “You take your life in your hands to go out there now,” he said.

Indeed, a football player twisted his ankle only a few days before the meeting. Tye pointed to studies that show that synthetic turf is about as safe as grass at optimal conditions.

Tye’s final point was that synthetic turf is now fairly common, not only in professional sports, but also among high schools as well. All b ut one other school in the Dual County League have synthetic turf fields. “We aren’t inventing the wheel here,” he said.

After Tye presented his case, aldermen questioned him on the specifics of his proposals. Some aldermen used their time to raise doubts about whether the Newturf proposal should take budgetary priority over other needs, such as the need to renovate Newton’s firehouses, as well as several of the elementary schools.

Several aldermen proposed funding a preliminary drainage study before continuing forward.

“While I am not unalterably opposed to the use of synthetic in-filled turf, from the beginning I have advocated for a comprehensive study of the drainage problems at NSHS and the impact any plan would have on the surrounding area prior to approving any proposal,” Alderman Ted Hess-Mahan said in a later interview.

He and other Aldermen have advocated such a study, but Hess-Mahan said Newturf and the Mayor have been unreceptive.

Members of the community opposed to Newturf were allowed to give three minute speeches in opposition.

Steve Farrell, whose house looks out onto South’s fields called for the board to consider a different proposal that would include a turf field inside the track.

The main source of opposition seemed to be concerns about Newturf’s impact on the environment. “How much land do we want to cover with plastic?” Louise Bruin asked.

Guive Mirfendirski slammed a bag of the sand on the podium and asserted that the sand used in the turf fields could cause cancer.

Anatol Zuckerman raised concerns that replacing grass fields with plastic ones would contribute to global warming by removing oxygen producing plants.

He said that the fields contributed enough oxygen for 120 people a year, and replacing them would create heat islands.

Both were concerned about the impact that the bits of ground-up rubber used in the field would have on the local environment.

Newturf disputed many of these concerns, pointing to studies by the National Institute of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Jeff Sideman, President of the fiscally conservative Newton Taxpayer’s Association decried the “lack of accurate information” from Newturf. “[It's] this number tonight, that number tomorrow night.”

Finally, after about two hours, South students and faculty got their chance to make their voice heard. South’s principal Brian Salzer called on the Board to “do your best, and a little better” by approving the plan.

He thanked the Board for its commitment to South, and hoped they would extend that commitment to South’s fields.

“I don’t understand what the hold-up is,” South PTSO co-president Deena David said. “We’re not paving paradise to put up a parking lot.”

Superintendent Jeff Young recognized that there were still ambiguities in the plan and said that no plan is ever perfect.

“Life does not work like that,” he said.

Members of the School Committee, the Superintendent, and coaches and players from different teams all took their turn to speak in support of the plan.

When it came Derek Russell’s turn to speak, he told the Board that he wanted to transfer out of South at the end of freshman year because there wasn’t enough attention paid to athletics, especially with regard to the fields.

“It’s hard as an athlete to be proud of your school when you don’t have playable fields,” he said.

“Most other schools have much better fields than us, and if you look around you will see kids who deserve good fields, too.”

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