Letter: When it Comes to Artificial Turf Fields, Will the BET Become Part of the Problem?

Letter to the editor signed by Real Grass for Healthy Kids: Jude Braunstein, David Rudolph, Susan Rudolph, Warren Silver, Liane Tel, Bryan Tunney, Ellen Wolfson, M.D. and Arthur Yee, M.D.

Understandably and rightfully, COVID-19 is top of mind for everyone, and our concerns are first and foremost focused on the health of our family, our community and our planet.

As we attempt to get used to this new normal, the business of governing continues to provide services and resolve matters of importance to the individuals and communities they serve. With the original public hearing (March 30th ) and decision day meeting (April 2nd ) still not certain, at some point the Board of Estimate and Taxation will meet to discuss and approve the coming fiscal year’s budget. A major topic of discussion will be turfing Central Middle School and the BoE’s approval of a $2.3 million hybrid field.

For many years, the Board of Education’s spending has been, and continues to be, out of control, and their decision making is confounding and misguided at best. Take, for
example, the decision to reduce spending for special education while investing obscene amounts of money on toxic playing fields. One needs to look no further than Mr. Bernstein’s $14 million Cardinal Stadium “project”.

But the BoE is only half the problem. The Board of Estimate and Taxation provides the final funding and endorsement for the BoE’s irresponsible spending habits. On April 2nd or some other newly set date, the BET may endorse another overpriced and under-considered BoE project to appease a very small minority of residents and the independent for-profit and not-for-profit clubs to which they belong.

For over three years, the public health and financial concerns have fallen on deaf ears. It’s now time to let the facts and figures speak on behalf of the over 2,500 (online and offline signatures) voting town residents who have spoken out against artificial turf.

Let’s talk about costs…

We are going to focus on and dispel the two main financial arguments why artificial turf is better than real grass.

1. Installation Cost
Myth: It’s cheaper to install artificial turf fields. It is not.

Milone & MacBroom, an engineering firm retained by the BoE, provided three resurfacing options for Central Middle School. Option 1 is to install an all-grass field, which will cost Greenwich taxpayers $1.1 million dollars; Option 2 would completely turf Central Middle School costing taxpayers $3.03 million, and a late entrant, a hybrid approach not included in Milone & MacBroom’s initial report, that was approved by the BoE and will cost taxpayers $2.3 million.

Fact: Grass field installation is $1.2 million less than the option approved by the BoE.

2. Operating Costs & Removal Costs

Myth: It’s cheaper to maintain artificial turf fields. It is not.

When done correctly, artificial turf fields require proper and rigorous maintenance, which includes routine disinfecting in order to keep the fields safe from bacteria, a sprinkler system to cool the fields before play during hot summer months and other equipment including sweepers, brooms, paint machines and field magnets. It needs to be fluffed and swept regularly to contain the drifting infill, which must be replaced at least annually (more frequently depending on playtime) at a cost of between $30,000 and $40,000 per year.

The average cost to remove an artificial turf field after its eight to ten-year life cycle is estimated to be $800,000. This cost has NOT been factored into the Milone & MacBroom’s budget presented to the BoE.

Fact: According to the Sports Turf Management Association, an association providing independent advice to sports field managers, the cost of a grass field versus an artificial turf field over a 16-year period is $475,000 for grass versus $1.281 million for artificial turf. Amortized annually, that is $30,000 for grass versus $80,000 for turf, nearly three times the annual cost for grass.

Let’s talk about play time…

We hear a lot about play time. According to the BoE, Central Middle School’s PE classes require 25 hours of playtime per week during the normal school terms. When you add interscholastic sports playtime of 8 hours, the total required playtime for Greenwich public school students is 33 hours per week. That number drops significantly in the summer to 17 hours per week.

With the natural grass option (Option 1), the field area under consideration at Central Middle School is 177,000 square feet. The average US high school soccer field is 55,000 square feet, which means we can put three regulation-size natural grass fields in that 177,000 square foot area. Assuming the 25 to 30 hours is correct, and we rest one field at a time, natural grass fields would provide us with 50 to 60 hours of play time per week or 10 to 12 hours per day.

Fact: Grass fields will more than meet the needs of the students at Greenwich public schools.

Let’s talk about subsidizing town clubs…

For some reason, the OGRCC, GYFL and other town for-profit and not-for-profit organizations feel they have a right to these fields and to weigh into this debate. They do not.

Do they provide a valuable resource and outlet for our children? They do.

It is the generosity of the Town of Greenwich and its taxpayers that subsidizes these sports clubs and allows them to play on our school fields for a small fee. These clubs add another twenty hours of playtime per week, a 35% increase on demand, to Central Middle School fields. Their use of public-school property should not be calculated or considered in this decision.

Greenwich taxpayers should not be responsible for enriching these organizations.
Money is a powerful motivator. Faced with the threat of flat to declining revenue from program services, the OGRCC ($2.3 million in 2017 vs $2.3 million 2016), GSA (~$389k in 2017 vs $470k in 2016), GYFL and Greenwich Flag Football have all made artificial turf their top priority.

Over the past three years, medical and science experts have spoken on the record at town forums regarding the dangers of artificial turf for young children. It is at the town and taxpayers’ peril, should you choose not to heed these warnings. In ignoring these facts, you are exposing this town to potential lawsuits and legal battles for years to come.

We believe the First Selectman made the correct and appropriate decision by supporting natural grass. The BET should support the First Selectman’s decision and the wishes of the over 2,500 voting Greenwich residents. All eyes are on the BET to provide the leadership and sound financial management this town sorely needs and to rein in the reckless and short-sighted spending of the BoE.

Have your voice heard, go to Real Grass for Healthy Kids.

Jude Braunstein
David Rudolph
Susan Rudolph
Warren Silver
Liane Tel
Bryan Tunney
Ellen Wolfson, M.D.
Arthur Yee, M.D.