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School Board Discussing Turf Field Proposal

June 18 , 2010 by the Pelham Weekly
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Private Group Would Donate Funds to School District - Topic on Agenda Monday, June 21

The Pelham Board of Education will discuss and hear public comments on a turf field proposal at its meeting on Monday, June 21. A private group of residents, called Friends of Pelham Sports, has $400,000 in pledges for the project and wants to begin collecting funds this month, once it receives tax exempt status.

At the School Board's last meeting on June 7, Tim Cassidy, president of the group, said: "What we would like is some type of commitment from the Board for our endeavor. Working with you and with your guidance, we would like to raise the full amount for this project."

The goal is to raise funds for one turf field, probably to be located at the Glover Field complex that currently has grass fields.

School Board President John Brice said the Board could not respond that evening but he requested that Assistant Superintendent for Business Angelo Rubbo obtain guidelines and information from the State Department of Education and attorneys for accepting funds in this kind of situation.

Mr. Rubbo said private funding of turf fields had been done in other districts and was feasible but a complex matter. "The district is ultimately responsible for the process," he said, referring to required studies, permits and regulations.

Mr. Brice said he also wanted broader input from the community. "I would like to allow those who were opposed to this idea (in 2008) to have the opportunity to weigh in on this matter."

In 2008, a proposition to build two turf fields—at Glover and Franklin Fields—was defeated. Opponents cited safety and health concerns for student athletes, the cost of the proposal to taxpayers and how maintenance and replacement costs would be funded. Also, at the time, the building of several turf fields in New York City was on hold amid media reports about questions of health and safety issues.

The proposal for one turf field made by the Friends of Pelham Sports would be at no cost to taxpayers. The group would raise the necessary funds to be donated to the School District, and Mr. Cassidy said it is committed to long term financial support, including funds for the replacement of the turf field in the future.

To look into the issues of health and safety, Mr. Cassidy said Friends of Pelham Sports solicited the help of a group of Pelham physicians to review the medical literature on turf fields. Michael Lahn, Emergency Medical Physician who practices at Lawrence Hospital in Bronxville, is spearheading that group. The physicians have children involved in many Pelham sports but are not members of the Friends of Pelham Sports.

In a letter from the physicians, posted on friendsofpelhamsports.com, the committee said that there are more than 3,500 installations of synthetic turf fields in the U.S. It added: "Advocates of synthetic turf fields cite their even playing surfaces, the lack of watering, mowing, fertilizers or pesticides as well as their utility year-round and in most weather; as benefits to their installation. Critics cite the potential chemical exposure from the components of the fields, as well as the potential to cause virulent skin infections, increases in serious injuries as well as increased heat exposure as complications to their use."

The committee said it has researched "what we believe to be the current evidence regarding the safety of installing and using synthetic turf fields in Pelham that utilize crumb rubber infill." (Crumb rubber infill is made from the grinding up of recycled automobile tires into small pellets.)

Crumb rubber is utilized in almost all of the newer generation installed fields such as those in the Pelham area— at the Sports Underdome, at the Omni Fitness facility and at the NY Athletic Club at Travers Island. Crumb rubber is also used at most, if not all, of the synthetic turf fields in lower Westchester where Pelham children now play.

The physicians studied literature of recent evaluations of crumb rubber turf installations by local city, state and federal organizations that are empowered to protect the public. "Their findings in general have attested to the safety of synthetic turf," the committee said.

The committee also pointed out that there are other types of synthetic fields that utilize other materials. While they currently have limited installation in the Pelham area and little to no health and safety research regarding their use, the committee said "they have some potential advantages that should be considered if a decision is made to go forward with an installation." (Friends of Pelham Sports is exploring use of other materials, including virgin rubber.)

Twenty toxicology references and studies on crumb rubber infilled synthetic turf are listed (with the links to the full studies) on friendsofpelhamsports.com and pelhamweekly. com. A video of the June 7 School Board meeting is available on www.pelhamschools.org and Cablevision Channel 77.

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