At the Capital Improvements Project Hearing on Thursday night, about two dozen residents testified before town department heads including Amy Siebert (DPW), Joe Siciliano (Parks & Rec), Katie DeLuca (P&Z), Peter Tesei (First Selectman) Jill Gildea (Greenwich Schools Superintendent), and Pete Mynarski (Comptroller) sharing their unease with artificial turf on either Central or Eastern Middle School fields.
The largest individual item earmarked in the recently approved Board of Education capital improvement budget for 2018-19 of $20.4 million is $5 million for artificial turf fields, lights and fencing at one of the three middle schools.
Since Western Middle School’s fields are fenced off due to the discovery of contamination, mainly neighbors to EMS and CMS were drawn to the microphone.
Patty Roberts of Bramble Lane near Eastern Middle school said the natural grass at EMS is the only public green space and serves as a de facto park. She objected to the feasibility study for turf at middle schools. She said the real grass at Eastern is in good shape and grass fields are the ‘gold standard’ for field play.
Roberts said artificial turf is not regulated. “There is no Good Houskeeping Seal of Approval,” she said, adding that Ridgefield has posted warnings saying, “wash your hands and exposed body parts aggressively, turn your clothes inside out to avoid tracking dust to other locations…”
Jeff Cordulack from Northeast Organic Farming Association, and formerly of Audubon Greenewich, compared the costs of synthetic turf versus grass.
“We’re very capable of maintaining grass fields in this Town,” he said, adding that real grass can be installed at a fraction of the cost of turf. “Take your investment in fields and use it to put in grass fields and maintain them over the years,” Cordulack said.
Michael Simko of Bramble Lane in Riverside said when he inquired with Parks & Rec about how fields are created in town, he was told, “We can’t disturb the fields that are there and potential pollution.”
Simko said that in the Feb 1, 2017 BET minutes former director of operations Jim Hricay and former facilities director Jim Matten said installation of all weather turf was being considered so that playing fields can be used more quickly after inclement weather, and because no penetration of the soil is required, eliminating the cost of soil remediation.
“From what I read here, the reason the town wants to put down plastic fields is because they don’t want to deal with remediation,” Simko said. “I think a study needs to be done and these fields need to be bored and we figure out what’s underneath in the soil. And if we do have bad soil, let’s not just let it sit there and pretend it’s not there.”
Katherine LoBalbo, an architect and member of both the RTM and ARC, said she hoped the town would not expand turf in future.
She said turf needs to be replaced every ten years. “By expanding our turf we are locking ourselves into a cost system where every ten years we have to replace the fields, and the number is significant – it’s three quarters of a million dollars.”
LoBalbo said that although people say there is no maintenance on turf, it needs to be refilled at least four times a year.
“Where is that material going?” she asked. “It’s finding its way to our water ways and traveling home on the clothes of our children athletes, and possibly picked up and ingested by our little ones because they’re curious and everything goes right into their mouth.”
Lobalbo asked that the turf be taken off the table, and have the town look for land to create a field. “Let’s challenge our engineering staff to raise the grade of fields to add proper drainage – we have a wealth of talent.”
As for turfing Central Middle School, Coachlamp Lane resident Rosemarie Anner said kids should be playing on their respective school’s fields. “The high school kids on the high school fields. The junior high school kids on their own fields.”
Ms. Anner said the shortage of fields was the result of the change in start time. She said that a track athlete was injured and got a concussion from running in the dark, and suggested that GHS athletes get a different schedule so that they can be dismissed from school earlier.
Anner said details hadn’t been provided abut how many teams and players from GHS would play on a turf field at CMS.
“I need to know every single part of that $5 mill allocation,” she said. adding that at the Dec 3 P&Z meeting the BOE shifted from wanting to power lights with diesel, to offering underground electric cables, and lastly switching to turfing the field.
“There has been no traffic feasibility study, there has been no testing, yet the ground has already been mapped out,” Anner said.
EMS neighbor Susan Foster was concerned about the lighting and environmental issues associated with artificial turf. She said fencing around the turf field at EMS would change the campus from a neighborhood park to a restricted use athletic facility that would destroy abutting neighbors’ ability to enjoy their back yards, and hurt property values.
In addition to asking that funding for a feasibility study be removed from consideration for the upcoming budget year, Foster asked for a ten year moratorium turfing town land until GHS and WMS are remediated.
She also asked that environmental impact studies be required, including borings, before turfing any field.
Peter Sherr, a member of the BOE and its former chair, said that often in public hearings there are constituents who do not turn out.
“As we know more than a quarter of residents in the town of Greenwich are children, though they don’t vote,” he said. “Environmentalists will propose development of any kind. They won’t give you a solution.”
Dr. Jurij Savyckyj, who has lived at 36 Bramble Lane for 42 years, said his house backs up to the EMS baseball diamond. Savyckyj, who is chief of staff at the largest psychiatric hospital in New York, said the last thing we need is more bad molecules coming from petroleum products. “When you think of artificial turf compared to regular grass, it’s a no contest situation from a medical standpoint.
“I spent 100 houses looking for the house in which I live, which abuts the field,” he said. “The spot was perfect. I wanted a sight line over real grass after living in New York City.”
Dr. Savyckyj said outgassing occurs all the time with petroleum products. “For example, with a rubber band that’s dried out and broken. It lies there kind of stiff. That’s an outgassed example of a petroleum product. … You can’t breath petroleum products and not pay a price for it. …Outgassing is constant and happens especially in heat. …Just because that bad thing can’t be easily measured, doesn’t mean it’s not happening. We just don’t have techniques to measure it.”
Molly Calhoun, 35 Bramble Lane with a 4 and 6-year old who play in the streets and walk to and from school activities said adding turf and lights would diminish the small town feel she sought when buying her house. “I don’t think this is the right area for this,” she said. “Kids are everywhere and are in danger with the additional traffic.”
Peter Tesei will next present the budget to the BET on Jan 29, 2018.