Batavia latest to consider adding turf field

This isn't about whether or not residents should support the advisory question on the Nov. 4 general election ballot placed by Batavia Public School District 101.

That is, should there be $15 million alternate revenue bonds funding capital improvements including new athletic fields at Batavia High.

When terms like "alternate revenue bonds" start flying this space threatens to enter the realm of Fred Willard's character Buck Laughlin in the film comedy, "Best in Show," a fish-out-of-water ex-jock attempting to broadcast a dog show.

This writer's numbers sense went out with his vertical leap. Municipal and money matters are handled much better by ace Daily Herald news writers such as Susan Sarkauskas, Harry Hitzeman and Jim Fuller.

However, we'll attempt some balance and awareness on advisory question topics pertaining to sports.

Stating it up front: The Batavia High people we spoke with, three in the athletic arena and the director of bands, were in sports parlance 110 percent behind it.

Concerning outdoor facilities the bond issue would:

Install a synthetic turf field on the main Bulldog Stadium football field, a new 7-lane track and ancillary items such as a new flagpole, fencing and track and field items like long jump pits.

Create a second multiuse, synthetic turf soccer field, 205-by-360 feet, with lighting, fencing, scoreboard and observation tower. Both fields would require underground stormwater detention.

Renovate the junior varsity and varsity softball fields and the junior varsity baseball field with aspects such as a new scoreboard, backstops and safety netting.

The plan keeps the school arboretum intact, a point which apparently had scuttled a prior Board-approved plan.

There also are more than 20 items included on this project list that deal with districtwide capital improvements such as roofs and boilers.

Roofs and boilers can't turn a 6-4-3 double play. They are not our focus here.

Part of this begs the question of why outdoor facilities weren't included in the $75 million referendum Batavia residents accepted in 2007 to create the Fine Arts Centre, academic space and an athletic field house.

On that matter Sylvia Keppel, spokeswoman for Batavians for Responsible Government, which does not support this advisory question, said, "Good question."

Like a good watchdog should, she questioned every part of this issue from potential tax liability to actual need.

Batavia athletic director Dave Andrews, who served in the same capacity at Willowbrook High School during the 2007 referendum (District 88 secured field houses for Addison Trail and Willowbrook during his tenure), said his understanding is indoor facilities were then the priority due to nuisances like musical performances taking place in the school cafeteria.

The BPS101 Project List notes Batavia High's outdoor facilities were selected "based on how many students could be brought back on the high school campus for after-school outdoor activities."

"Right now we have 300 student-athletes off site practicing," Andrews said.

Director of bands Chris Owen, director of the Marching Bulldogs, has 130 more practicing in a field owned by Batavia Covenant Church.

"I'm so for it you can't even believe it," said Owen, who called moving students, instruments and equipment around the school and across Main Street a safety and time issue.

In an athletic analogy, Owen said marching bands also are supposed to "practice as you play." He said the Marching Bulldogs find that difficult when most sites hosting band competitions have a turf field. The bumpier your practice surface, the bumpier your performance.

Boys lacrosse (Batavia doesn't yet have girls lacrosse) practices at Rotolo Middle School nearly four miles away.

Boys and girls soccer practice at H.C. Storm Elementary, about a mile and a half away.

Mark Gianfrancesco, Batavia's 16-year varsity boys soccer coach and also head girls coach for four years, believes 70 people heading after school to H.C. Storm - some walking, some driving - are safety and supervision issues.

"Before the field house and the auditorium we had great space," said Gianfrancesco, a Batavia taxpayer who would support the advisory question.

He noted the Oct. 14 boys senior day match against Neuqua Valley was postponed a day after rain flooded the home field.

"Keeping our kids safe is the No. 1 priority in public education, so that's a very big deal," Andrews said.

"Not to mention it's an identity thing, it's an ownership thing. It's creating haves versus have-nots at our school. We don't agree with that."

Speaking of haves, there's the 2013 Class 6A state champion football team (which, Keppel reminds, dominated on a grass field).

For Bulldogs football coach Dennis Piron it would seem a new turf field is a no-brainer, particularly after the school rented Mooseheart's turf field for practice during last year's playoff run, at $5,000 a year according to Keppel, once the ground at Bulldog Stadium started to freeze.

As the head boys track coach he'd love a new track to replace the one laid when the school was built in 1966. Resurfacings work, but not forever; the last was in 2004.

Piron, who calls the outdoor area in debate "the land that time forgot," said it actually wouldn't be that big a deal for football. He said it's "the one program that practices at the stadium."

Andrews said football practices also are held on the baseball fields, along with physical education classes, and those outfields suffer "significant damage."

Piron, an assistant athletic director, said turf fields actually "would be less convenient" for football as other programs return to campus "but better for Batavia High School kids."

Batavians for Responsible Government spokeswoman Sylvia Keppel questions not only the additional costs of replacing turf fields after their warranties expire in eight to 10 years, but also safety concerns due to turf abrasions.

(A Kane County football coach whose team plays on a grass field, who will go unnamed since he was asked about this issue off the cuff, said while his team enjoys playing on artificial turf the boys don't like practicing on it when they've had the chance, due to turf burns. Would he prefer a turf field? Yes, and he is certainly no monster.)

Keppel and others nationwide also question the potential health side affects of playing on artificial turf, whose filling generally consists of pellets called "crumb rubber" made from shredded tires. More expensive filling options are available.

When preparing for the turf transition at his school's Burgess Field, Geneva athletic director Jim Kafer said they scrutinized every possible study comparing grass to synthetic turf in terms of temperature, joint and concussion injuries and environmental concerns such as cancer, staph infections and respiratory ailments.

Kafer said focusing on data and not anecdotal evidence Geneva concluded "at worst there was no difference between the two and at best, there were fewer injuries on turf than natural grass. There was no hard evidence that turf created any environmental concerns."

He called the Burgess turf an "excellent addition." Gym classes and athletic programs use it from about 8 a.m.-8 p.m. five to six days a week from August through November, April through June.

"The key," Batavia athletic director Dave Andrews said, "is to bring every single kid back onto our campus, provide them with a safe practice and competition facility, and for them to feel part of the high school experience."

Is there more to this advisory question debate? Tons.

Like what the heck to do about a governor, Batavians have till Nov. 4 to figure it out.

For now this is Buck Laughlin, signing off.

Follow Dave on Twitter @doberhelman1

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