By Stephanie Choate
November 7th, 2013
Voters turned out to the polls Tuesday, defeating a bond to construct synthetic turf athletic fields at Champlain Valley Union High School.
Residents of Williston, St. George, Hinesburg, Shelburne and Charlotte voted against the bond, 1,969 to 1,856.
Voters were being asked to approve a $1.5 million bond to build two turf fields, including lights and bleachers on one field, resulting in approximately $15 in taxes for a $300,000 home. Since other bond payments for CVU facilities are decreasing, the bond would not have resulted in a net increase in taxes. The bond would have been supplemented by funds raised by the Turf Fields Committee, with the total cost estimated at $2.6 million.
Approximately 10 percent of Williston voters turned out to the polls—856 residents.
The CVU School Board must now determine how to move forward. In September, it unanimously approved a motion to ask the community for the bond.
Board Chairman David Rath said it will take some time for the board to evaluate the community’s response and determine how to move forward.
“I’m disappointed, because it is such an elegant and reasonable solution to this overwhelming problem we’re facing,” he said of the vote’s outcome. “That having been said, I am impressed that 49 percent of the people who voted seemed to understand that this was a good solution to the need.”
Williston board member Jeanne Jensen, who is also on the Facilities Committee, said the board still needs to address drainage issues and a shortage of fields.
“It was disappointing, but honestly getting almost 50 percent of the vote was really good for the size of the project,” Jensen said. “I’m not too discouraged. I think we just need to do a little better job communicating.”
Jensen and Rath both said they would like to hear from community members to understand why some resident objected to the turf fields.
Drainage issues on the school’s fields forced many home games and practices to be moved elsewhere—including parking lots—during rainy seasons last fall and spring. A high concentration of clay stops water from draining from the fields when it rains or snows.
The push for turf fields was an effort to move forward on some of the recommendations of the Gale report, a comprehensive study issued by the board and released in September 2011. The study recommended refurbishing the school’s five fields and installing one synthetic turf field with lights and bleachers.
“We still have a field problem,” Jensen said. “We have other options… natural grass, one turf field, fundraising. Those are things we need to talk about, but we do need to do something with the fields.”
Rehabilitating the school’s grass fields would also cost approximately $1.5 million, though Facilities Committee members have noted that rehabilitation is not a sure fix.
Kellie Stoll, a spokesperson for the Turf Fields Committee, which has already raised some $270,000 for the project, said the committee remains “absolutely” committed to turf fields at CVU.
“We really feel strongly it’s the only permanent solution, and throwing money at the grass fields is just fiscally unwise,” she said.
Stoll said the group will wait to take direction from the school board.
“In the meantime, we’ll forge ahead with our fundraising and educating people about the project because unfortunately the problem’s not going to go away,” she said. “Something needs to be done.”