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Turf Fields Spark Passionate Response Around Union County

Several towns or school districts in Union County have or are grappling with the issue of whether or not to construct artificial turf playing fields.

 

Turf field and athletic field complex developments have been provoking passionate response in towns around Union County recently.

The issue came to the fore a couple of years ago in Maplewood, when a proposal to include turf at DeHart Park was voted down by following months of very heated debate between turf advocates and those passionately against turf.

In Springfield, after years of debate and wrangling, a turf field complex for shared municipal and school district use at Jonathan Dayton High broke ground this month and should be operational by fall 2013.

In Garwood, council just approved a controversial $3.2 million complex that includes a turf field for soccer and field hockey, a new building with a full kitchen and an activity room for seniors and other groups, a bocce court, basketball courts and a lighted baseball field. Groundbreaking is expected in the coming months. 

In Westfield, the $3.3 million to construct a synthetic field at Westfield High School has been bundled with millions more for school roof repairs in a bond referendum scheduled for September 24.

Westfield

Accross the towns, the passionate responses have arisen for a myriad of reasons — pro and con. In Westfield, the topic has become so intense as to spur Patch Local Editor Liz Altnerman to create a Lighted Turf Field Topic Page where readers can easily find all stories on the issue.

Since the Westfield Board of Ed’s decision in June to include funding for both district roof repairs and a lighted turf field installation as a single bond proposal, the public outcry has been loud. Some members said they would have preferred to decide each project on its own merits. Taxpayers contrasted the roof repair – almost unanimously viewed as an urgent necessity – with a turf field that some felt was more of a luxury.

Near-neighbors to the proposed Westfield project cite negatives including cost, traffic and parking, and bright lights. They fear that the increased noise, light and traffic on game days will diminish their property values. Others balked at the sheer size of a $16.9 million bond and the all-or-nothing stakes that attached the two projects. Proponents note that the town's other two turf fields — Sid Fey/Houlihan owned by the Town of Westfield  and Kehler Stadium — will need to be replaced in the near and mid-term, respectively.

But after a summer that saw impassioned meetings in public and fierce discussions online, a September BOE discussion of the topic remained largely civil and calm. Still, dozens of anti-turf lawn signs were stolen during the evening hours of Saturday, Sept. 15. And this week, a number of letters to the editor pro and con have populated the Westfield Patch website.

Springfield

In Springfield, a four-year effort to create a turf field complex for shared municipal and school district use at Jonathan Dayton High came to fruition — after being interrupted by changes in town leadership. Mayor Ziad Shehady, who supports the cause, helped to pass an ordinance in December 2010 but was voted out of office for 2011 and back in for 2012. Shehady wrote, "Our existing fields are unable to meet the demand and lack the most basic necessities for sporting events, such as seating, lighting or restrooms."

Springfield Township Committee Democrats who had expressed skepticism and opposition to the proposed turf field experienced a change of heart, saying that the voluminous research presented about artificial turf and the proposed facility’s potential positive impact on alleviating flooding in the area convinced them to support the project — as well as the fact that the facility would be shared by all in the town.

The ordinance was approved by Springfield's Town Committee in February 2012 and ground broke this September, with the turf field expected to be operational for the fall 2013 sports season.

Garwood

In Garwood, a $3.2 million bond was approved by a 5 to 1 vote in August to construct an Athletic Field Complex where the borough's Little League field now stands.

The complex has been discussed for more than 10 years and finally is set for construction to begin. The funds to be raised by taxes will mean a $65 increase in taxes per home assessed at $100,000 every year for the next 15 years. The complex will also be paid for with $1.1 million in grant funds from the state and county including Open Space grants and Green Acre grants.

The price tag for the complex was heavily debated, with many residents showing up to borough hall to voice their opposition and asking that the project be put up for a referendum in the November election. Ultimately, Garwood Council members decided to move forward, and the project was awarded in September.

In addition to the turf field for soccer and field hockey, the complex includes a new building with a full kitchen and an activity room for seniors and other groups, a bocce court, basketball courts and a lighted baseball field.   

Elsewhere around the county:

New Providence

In 2007, New Providence Borough released the Recreation Master Plan which demonstrated a need for five synthetic turf fields or three synthetic fields with lights to accommodate New Providence’s recreation programs. As with many communities, New Providence lacked the funds to make these improvements. The New Providence Partnership for Recreation (NPPR) raised funds through private and club donations, grants, golf outings, and evening events to pay for the installation of FieldTurf and Musco focused lighting on Lieder Field at New Providence High School possible.

In early July 2011, the installation of four new field lights at Lieder Field were completed and tested for borough ordinance compliance.

The sale of Oakwood Park to Union County for $1, in exchange for $3.5 million to use for park renovations, was the source of controversial debate in the Borough from 2008 to 2010. In a ballot referendum question on Nov. 2, 2010, residents voted "no" to the sale of Oakwood Park to Union County. If the referendum had passed, it could have resulted in the installation of two additional turf fields at the "Oakwood Park Complex," according to former Councilman Vincas Vyzas's 2010 article, A Viable Alternative for Oakwood Park. This would have effectively satisfied an additional 40% of the stated goals of the Recreation Master Plan in that 2 of 5 unlit turf fields would have been installed.

Scotch Plains

There are four turf fields in Scotch Plains: The township of Scotch Plains owns one which is used primarily for soccer and lacrosse programs. The Board of Education owns two turf fields which are used by the district schools and, when the schools are not using them, the town recreation department schedules the fields — primarily for the lacrosse program and some soccer. In Scotch Plains, Union Catholic also has one turf field. UC is a private school and the field is used for their own sports programs.

Summit

Summit has three turf fields, one at the Washington School ad two newer city turf fields called the Glendside fields.

Clark

In 2007, Clark bonded for a $1.3 million turf field and track at Arthur L. Johnson high school that was built that same year. The field is used for all high school field sports including football.

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