September 18, 2014

Turf fields to be explored for CVU

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CVU soccer players stride off the field after a muddy game this fall. (Courtesy photo by Mitch Lieberman)

Observer staff

Student athletes, parents, coaches and taxpayers—many of them in Redhawks red—crowded into the standing-room-only Champlain Valley Union School Board meeting last week to propose a plan to upgrade the school’s athletic fields.

A rainy fall highlighted drainage issues on the fields, rendering them unplayable and forcing many home games and practices to be moved elsewhere. As a growing number of games were relocated, a group of approximately 25 community members gathered to look into methods to improve field conditions—particularly, installing synthetic turf fields.

“Almost every sport in the school has been moving their practices and games,” Chris Farrington, president of the CVU football booster club and spokesman for the group, told the board on Nov. 14. “It’s not a lot of fun to play a home game in St. Johnsbury or Burlington.”

The group hopes 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.

At the Nov. 14 meeting, Farrington, speaking for the group, proposed replacing two of the current fields with synthetic turf fields, with amenities including lights and bleachers on one of the fields.

Farrington said members of the group had done extensive research, and were confident that the two turf fields could be installed for roughly $2.6 million—approximately $1 million less than if the board acted on everything recommended in the Gale report.

He also proposed several funding options.

The first would be to bond the entire project. The second, to bond the cost of the fields and fundraise for the amenities. The final option is to split the cost, bonding half the project and fundraising for the remainder.

Farrington also noted that turf fields could bring in revenue through admission and rental fees. Turf fields would also open up the possibility of hosting tournaments and championships, bringing additional revenue the school, as well as businesses in town.

Burlington, South Burlington and Rutland high schools currently have at least one turf field.

South Burlington High School, which installed a turf field in 2004, charges $150 an hour for the use of its turf field, and $200 an hour for night use, activities director Michael O’Day said.

“It’s a lifesaver in many regards,” O’Day said. “The problem is we only have one and everyone wants it.”

Several CVU board members expressed support for functional and safe athletic facilities, but were also mindful of budget constraints.

Board member Jeanne Jensen noted that even if the board opted against turf fields, the fields would still need approximately $1.2 million worth of fixes to be brought back to working order, since it’s clear that the drainage system is “broken.”

“If we’re going to have fields, they’re going to have to be replaced,” she said. “… If we do decide to go for it, what I think we need to do is look at all the options.”

Board Chairman David Rath suggested putting together a committee to work with members of the group to further explore the turf field option and ways in which the project can be implemented.

“I certainly have been struck by the energy and enthusiasm this group has brought to this concept,” he said.

On Nov. 19, the board voted to have its facilities committee work with representatives from the community group to explore the options and come back with a report to the board.

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