Mascoutah will be the next metro-east high school to suit up athletes for action on an artifical playing field.
Athletic Director Scott Battas curried agreement with the District 19 Board of Education to allow installation to begin once $500,000 of the initial $750,000 cost estimate was raised privately.
The non-profit Alumni Field Project has raised $465,000 since Aug. 4, but because the bid from ATG Sports in St. Louis came in more than $100,000 lower than expected, the go ahead has been given to break ground in early January.
Weather depending, it could be completed in April before the end of the girls soccer season.
“We feel this is the new-age way to accommodate the most with the least,” Battas said. “Anytime something costs a lot of money, people take a step back. But if you compare the value, it just makes sense.
“Ten years ago this would have cost a million and a half dollars and not been of the quality we’ll be getting. Now we’re talking about $640,000.”
The ATG Ram Turf is the latest version of a similar surface already installed at O’Fallon, Collinsville, East St. Louis and Waterloo. It will be installed within the footprint of the existing field, inside the all-weather track that was installed last year.
Mascoutah’s fundraising effort followed a model used by Belleville High School District 201, which installed turf fields at both its East and West campuses two years ago, Battas said.
Seven local businesses purchased advertising, which will be stitched onto the sideline turf. The Mascoutah sports boosters, band boosters, and Little Indians youth football club and eight other businesses or individuals contributed between $25,000 and $50,000.
Matt Stukenberg, a member of the school board and owner of DMS Contracting, helped by donating about $100,000 worth of free labor to prepare the site.
More than 75 percent of the total, however, came from smaller alumni donations.
“The totally private financing is the best part of it all. I’m a taxpayer in Mascoutah, too,” Battas said. “It brings great value to the community. We feel this will benefit everyone who goes to school here.”
Battas said the new turf will save taxpayers significantly on the $25,000 the district has spent annually to maintain the out-going grass field.
The field will be used by the football and soccer teams, physical education classes and the Mascoutah High School marching band for both practice and field competitions. The Little Indians will have use of the field as well.
“The baseball and softball teams will benefit,” said Battas, the former head football coach. “They get a lot of rain in the spring, but there is a lot of things they can do on 120 yards of artificial turf.”
Battas said members of the Alumni Field Project researched safety concerns surrounding play on artificial turf and determined that the risks are no greater than they are on grass.
“In the NFL, they can have fairway-like grass fields, but that’s not how it is in high school,” he said. “From an athletic director’s perspective, I see the best opportunity to give our athletes a true surface. This science continues to evolve with the materials they’re using. When they perfect it — and it looks like they are getting close — I really believe you’ll see injuries go down.
“Bottom line, we wouldn’t install a surface without doing our due diligence or if we thought it wasn’t safe for our students.”
Battas said fundraising will continue until all costs are met. He said plans for replacing the grandstand at the football and track stadium have been discussed.
A similar proposal to install an artificial field at Highland High School was shot down by the board over concerns the district would be on the hook if private fundraising efforts failed.