Future of field turf uncertain

The future of an artificial turf field at Ashland High School seemed dim Monday night when the school board delayed approving continued fundraising based on inconclusive safety data and high costs.

The booster club has raised $65,000 in cash and $125,000 in pledges since the board gave the go-ahead to begin fundraising in May, with a goal of $200,000 by September and the understanding that the field was not a done deal. Total estimated cost of the project is $850,000.

Although the club is just $10,000 short of their September goal, the board had too many mixed feelings to give more definitive approval.

Safety seemed to be the biggest deal-breaker, with no conclusive study proving that artificial turf is safe in the long term. Board member Heidi Parker compared the lead encapsulated in the plastic blades of grass — used to add color — to asbestos, saying it might not be the great solution it seems to be.

"I feel really torn and it looks to me if the federal agencies can't agree if there's a problem or not, we're not likely to solve this any time soon," Parker said.

Board member Amy Patton said she was uncomfortable with studies that said the turf was safe "to the best of our knowledge" and was also uncomfortable asking people to give to another cause during tough economic times, especially when the Ashland Schools Foundation is also struggling.

"It's not that we don't support it," she told Athletic Director Karl Kemper and Booster Club member Carl Bacon, who updated the board on fundraising activities. "It's that we have reservations."

The board postponed making further decisions until the Sept. 22 work study session. The booster club can continue with fundraising until that time because the decision from May still stands.

"I'm disappointed that we didn't get the full approval, but I'm confident that we'll be able to continue with our fundraising efforts," Bacon said. Kemper declined to comment.

Ashland Schools Foundation

Susan Bacon, the Ashland Schools Foundation director who is married to Curt Bacon, updated the board on the emergency fund drive the foundation is conducting to cover costs of running the foundation and funding certain teaching positions.

The foundation is about $11,000 short of funding those basics, and $30,000 short of funding everything they usually fund in a given year, including enrichment grants such as the elementary artist in residence program and middle school ropes course.

The shortage is not due to field turf fundraising, however, she said, because the people who are giving to the field are not the same people missing from the foundation donor list. Instead, the usual donors have cut back on the amount they can give, she said.

"I think more than anything it's the economy," she said. "We've had a few of our major donors say they're waiting and seeing, and a number of families had to cut back."

If the foundation can reach the $11,000 goal but not the $30,000 goal, only programs which are easily reinstated will be cut she said. But if the lower goal is not reached, the district may have to pay for those additional teachers.

"If we can't pay for it, it's going to have to come out of the reserves, which I know you know are already over-tapped," she told the board.

Staff writer Julie French can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or jfrench@dailytidings.com.

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