Aldermen approve synthetic turf fields

By Nathan Yeo
Published: December 2008

With more than 50 Newton South athletes clad in orange and blue jerseys, jackets, and sweatshirts to show their support, the Board of Aldermen last Monday approved a $5 million plan to build two synthetic turf fields at Newton South and renovate the track.

Though during parts of the meeting the athletes passed their time solving logarithms, conjugating Spanish verbs, and reading Hawthorne as they sat on the long wooden benches in the cavernous main chamber of City Hall, when the Board of Aldermen approved the $5 million plan, they, along with coaches, school administrators, and parents, jumped to their feet and cheered.

The Board of Aldermen has discussed the installation of synthetic turf, or Newturf, fields at Newton South for almost 10 years. Over the past three, the Board drafted several design plans, conducted a drainage study, held 32 public meetings, and received input from both South and the Newton community at large.

The 20-4 vote in favor of the plan means that construction on the synthetic turf fields will begin on May 1, and will be finished next September, according to Athletic Director Scott Perrin. The construction will displace some South teams, forcing them onto offsite playing fields such as Weeks. Many teams, however, already play at offsite locations.

“Once [the fields are] built, we will have tremendous home arena, Perrin said after the vote. Before the Aldermen approved the plan, Perrin was skeptical that the vote would go through. Now, he says he feels “lighter.

The plan will create two multi-purpose synthetic turf fields, one situated on the location of the current football practice field, and the other in the middle of the track that is shared by South, Brown Middle School, and Oak Hill Middle School.

According to Perrin, the fields will have dedicated lines for football, soccer, and boy’s lacrosse, but can have temporary lines for other sports as well.

In order to accommodate the field in the middle of the track, the track itself will have to be expanded, for the field currently in the middle is not regulation width. This will allow the track to be expanded and repaired; fixing the potholes that have prevented Newton South from holding home meets at the track.

Athletes at the meeting included some members of South’s extremely successful track and field and cross-country teams. They said they were particularly excited the prospect of a new track.

“We’re one of the best teams with the worst track, junior Maddie Willard said. “We work hard everyday, and we deserved a track that doesn’t have potholes.

In addition, the plan will fence off the baseball field and re-sod it to improve the quality of the grass. Perrin said he would have preferred a synthetic turf baseball field, which was included in one of the original plans, but the Board would not approve it.

The athletes unanimously expressed joy at the plan’s approval and recounted problems on the current grass fields. Junior Luke Voss-Kernan, a three-season athlete who play soccer and runs both indoor and outdoor track described how soccer balls stop in puddles on the fields, as well as the having to run on the uneven track.

Senior and lacrosse player Joey Ives recounted how his shins would get “torn apart every practice by the rough, uneven ground.

The city will pay for the fields with $3.2 million raised through ten year bonds, as well as $1.5 million in funds from Newton’s Community Preservation Committee. In addition, the Board established a fund dedicated to the maintenance of the fields with a seed amount of $500,000 to be augmented by city and private contributions.

When Board members got a chance to debate the bill, Aldermen Susan Johnson turned and faced the assembled crowd, pledging to vote for the turf fields if the athletes in return pledged to raise money for the maintenance fund through bake sales and car washes. Almost every athlete raised their hand, as did their parents and coaches.

Most of the public speeches made by the Aldermen were in support of the bill. Aldermen and mayoral candidate Ken Parker, who has been one of the leading proponents of the bill, said the Board needed to approve the turf fields “not just for our current students, but for our future students and leaders as well.

Numerous Aldermen spoke about how the fields would be cost effective in the long term because they require less maintenance than grass fields and also how turf fields would allow more athletes to play home games.

In addition, some Aldermen spoke about how new fields would instill a sense of pride in South’s athletes. Alderman Cheryl Lappin described that during her time at South almost 30 years ago, the fields were constantly being flooded, a problem that still occurs today.

“Instead of our athletes being embarrassed, let’s make them proud, she said.

Even some longtime opponents of the plan, such as Aldemen Steven Lindsky and Jay Harney voted for the plan despite their desire to only have one synthetic turf field. They praised what they said was progress in the plan’s design, which evolved from being almost 5 acres of turf to now just two fields.

Alderman Ted Hess-Mahan, the plan’s leading opponent, said he was concerned about thalite, a toxic chemical recently banned by Congress in toys, in the turf’s crumb rubber, which he believes could poison athletes and potentially seep into the ground. He said he was also concerned about how turf fields capture heat, creating what he called “heat islands.

“I still hope I am wrong, he said. “ I am just afraid that we will have to approve more money to fix these mistakes.

As an alternative he proposed another type of turf, one made of synthetic fibers, which, he said, do not contain thalites or capture heat. When his proposal was not adopted, he declared he would “vote his conscious and voted against the plan.

Before he spoke, however, he acknowledged that his views were unpopular. He asked the crowd not to throw shoes at him, a reference to a recent incident where an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at President Bush. The crowd laughed.

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