Highland News Leader

Highland wants to upgrade its football stadium. Here’s why school board president says no.

Highland’s Brady Feldman hits the grass after scoring a touchdown during the game with Belleville East on Friday. A group would like to replace the grass field with turf, but the superintendent says he doesn’t support the plan.
Highland’s Brady Feldman hits the grass after scoring a touchdown during the game with Belleville East on Friday. A group would like to replace the grass field with turf, but the superintendent says he doesn’t support the plan. znizami@bnd.com

While the full board has yet to reach a final decision, Highland School Board President Jim Gallatin said his initial feeling is to punt on a $1 million plan to install synthetic turf on the high school football field as well as refurbish the stadium’s locker rooms and weight room.

“In spite of the Turf Committee’s efforts, I cannot in good conscience recommend we put the district’s finances in jeopardy for this or any other project of this magnitude without first establishing a solid foundation of funding,” Gallatin said.

A group of private citizens formed the “Highland Turf Committee” to advocate for the project out in the community and to also lobby the Board of Education. Former HHS athletic director, assistant principal and football coach Steve Lanxon has been spearheading the effort and presented the committee’s plan to the School Board in May.

It is estimated that the field installation will cost about $775,000. Locker room improvements would come to another $200,000. Lanxon said the plan is to pay for the project by selling advertisements on the field, so as not to cost any tax dollars when all is said and done.

But the problem is that the committee currently has only promises of sponsorships. It has no cash. That means a loan would be needed to finance construction — for which the school district would have to cosign.

Lanxon said the project would not begin until advertisers had committed to all of the funds necessary to complete the project. However, the pledges would be paid over the life of the field — in yearly increments. Therefore, the committee would need the school district to guarantee payment to the lender should fundraising efforts fall short of expectations.

That’s where Gallatin flinched.

“Had we installed artificial turf 10 years ago in 2007 based on pledged funding, I wonder how much of that money would have dried up in the 2008 stock market crash and subsequent unemployment of millions,” Gallatin said. “Will schools that have already installed artificial turf be able to afford to replace the turf when it wears out, or will they have to raise taxes to afford to keep it renewed?”

The warranty on the turf would be for eight years. Replacement would likely be required within 10 to 12 years at a cost of about $500,000. Lanxon said the replacement could be paid by re-upping advertising pledges.

The project has already garnered one eight-year committment, from ApexNetwork Physical Therapy in Highland, totaling $200,000, Lanxon said.

Should the School Board OK the project, the city leaders have also pledged to help make it a “community project,” including the possibility of buying a synthetic turf rake and vacuum for the school, though no officials votes have been taken by the City Council.

While Gallatin appears lined up on the “no” side of the ball, other board members have yet to call their play.

Board member Rober Miller said he believes the project will definitely mean cost for the district. He also said he does not believe they need a new field, but he has not ruled out the possibility of getting turf.

“I’d like to see a way of doing it without saddling future generations with a lifetime of debt caused by its replacement every 10 years,” Miller said. “Relying on possible future advertising revenue to pay for the turf project reminds me how Illinois got into another funding dilemma. The state cut school funding and promised it would be replaced with revenue from riverboat gambling — not the most reliable funding stream.”

Board member Rene Friedel said she appreciates the efforts from the community, coaches and Lanxton to help improve the facilities. But she said she will remain reserved about her opinion until all the information is presented, though she could not approve something that would bring a financial burden on the district and its future generations.

“I feel it’s somewhat premature to evaluate where the board is right now, since we are still accumulating data and facts,” Friedel said.

Board member Zach Lewis said he likes the project — in theory — because it mean HHS having a top-ranked facility. However, he said he was apprehensive about how funding the turf’s replacement would pan out.

“I don’t think the public would be happy if we start cutting teachers and/or programs because we have to pay for a new turf,” Lewis said.

He said he would only be comfortable with this project if funds were secured before completing the initial installation, plus additional investment capital to pay for the replacement costs. Lewis also said he was worried about scheduling use of the field.

“I do have concerns about someone being able to have the time to coordinate all the activities and games” Lewis said. “It may require hiring someone to do so. That is an additional cost.”

Board member Aaron Schuster said he knows the project is a risk, but there are “glaring issues” with the current HHS facility that the turf project can help fix.

“It’s tough, because there is so much more discussion to have,” Schuster said. “There are a lot of benefits to this turf. As I imagine it, there would be students on it from sun up to sun down, uniting our programs, with no fear of field damage.”

The project has unique qualities, according to Schuster, and could good for the entire community, not just the football program.

“I love this town, and I am excited about anything that can increase the draw for families to join our community,” Schuster said. “If our community and investors believe in Bulldog athletics and our schools, I feel as though this project is worth a good look by the School Board.”

Board members Joe Mott and David Raymond could not be reached for comment.

Miller and Schuster have been designated by fellow board members to research all aspects to the project. They estimate their research will be done by the end of next month and expect to present their final findings at the School Board meeting on Sept. 25. A decision needs to be made by Christmas if the district wants to the turf field in place for the start of football season next year.

At a glance

Highland School Board members Robert Miller and Aaron Schuster have been designated by the entire board to research the plan for a new artificial turf football field at Highland High School, as well as upgrading the stadium locker rooms and weight room. They have come up with this list of pros and cons to the project.

Pros

  • Upgrading the Troxler campus curb appeal and HHS outdated locker and weight rooms.
  • The ability to host band competitions and soccer regional tournaments to create revenue.
  • The field provides unlimited, year-round use for all extracurricular clubs and teams, as well as physical education classes.
  • Soccer could come back to the Troxler campus.
  • Decreases in soccer ankle injuries.
  • Striping the field with paint would no longer be required.
  • No holes, no mud issues, saves water, and it wish never turn brown.
  • The city is behind the project; it would bring the community together.
  • The turf field could be rented to other groups. According to Schuster, another local school district charges roughly $300 an hour for use of its turf field.
  • Spend less than $1,000 annually for extra cutting and seeding, beyond what Turfgator supplies.

Cons

  • The field must be replaced in eight to 12 years at a cost of about $500,000.
  • Health concerns from rubber field crumbs, which contains various chemicals; as well as concerns over turf burns.
  • The district currently does not spend money on care for the grass football field, other than chalk lining and mowing.
  • Once the turf is installed, it is difficult to remove and costly to convert back to grass.
  • Turf can increase surface temperature by up to 25 to 30 degrees over ambient temperature.
  • Community and teachers might have a bad perception due to expense.
  Comments