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School Board Gives Qualified Support to Friends of Pelham Sports' Turf Field Proposal

June 30 , 2010 news
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Members of the Pelham Board of Education gave qualified support Monday night to plans by the Friends of Pelham Sports to raise funds for a synthetic turf field at Glover Field. The group has pledges of $400,000 and proposes to donate enough funds to cover costs of the turf field and its maintenance.

“I am supportive at this time, but details need to be worked out,” said Board Vice President Bob Eicher, suggesting legal, engineering, finance and type of materials as the details. “But none are insurmountable,” he added.

All School Board members agreed that the details need to be worked out. Dr. Martha Arden added, “Do not rush into it.” She also wants to continue to hear more on the issues from the community.

A specific qualification voiced by School Board member Lisa Kiernan was that the type of materials should be something other than crumb rubber (cut up tires of all brands, types)—the material used in most synthetic turf fields in Westchester.

Earlier in the meeting, Dr. Scott Ely, a cancer researcher, told the Board that crumb rubber produces carcinogens and lead that come into the air when heated. “It is measurable, but we don’t know the effect or what is acceptable,” he said. “Even if one of our children possibly gets cancer, it is one too many.” He suggested that if a synthetic turf is approved it should be made of natural rubber because it has no carcinogens.

Tim Cassidy, president of Friends of Pelham Sports, said the group is open to any type of material for the synthetic turf. He also said the Friends want a “collaborative approach” with the Board and School district on all issues so that everyone is comfortable with safety issues.

Supporters pointed out that PMHS Varsity teams currently play on synthetic turf fields at other schools and are at a disadvantage in those games because the Pelham players have not been able to practice on a synthetic turf field at home.

School Board member Will Cavanagh said the PMHS boys’ soccer team should have won a championship game last fall but it was played on a synthetic turf field and Pelham lost.

It was said that lacrosse, field hockey and soccer in particular are “different games” played on a turf field. “Our kids are not prepared...we are letting our kids down by not having a turf field” was a repeated comment.

Other advantages of a synthetic turf field listed by supporters were improvements in scheduling because rain water can be removed from the field immediately after a storm, whereas a grass field must be closed, possibly for an extended time.

Said Mr. Cassidy: “As land starved as we are, we need this turf field more than anyone else.”

The new turf field, on the grass football field at Glover, would be available for use by PMHS teams and also by the Town of Pelham Recreation programs and affiliates, including soccer and football for elementary and middle school students.

Opponents to a synthetic turf field cited heat stress, skin infections and bone injuries as potential problems. Dr. Daniel Cohen cited a NY State Department of Health report issued in August of 2008 that he said concluded that heat stress and skin infection were still issues with turf fields made of crumb rubber. He said not enough time has passed to do comprehensive studies of elementary age children who play on synthetic turf fields.

Other physicians said there are ways to solve heat issues (not allow games on very hot days, have shaded areas and water available). As far as skin infections, they said if the wounds are properly taken care of there will not be an infection.

Acknowledging that there is uncertainty on health issues, Dr. Michael Lahn recommended a NY City Health Department report available on www. friendsofpelhamsports.com along with numerous other research reports andpapers. Dr. Lahn is head of a group of physicians that has studied available research at the request of the Friends group and listed numerous research studies of interest.

Dr. Arlene Silverio, a pediatric emergency room physician, said her department does not see turf field injuries but does see injuries from falls at playgrounds and not wearing bicycle helmets. She also advocated finding more ways to increase physical activity by children to prevent obesity.

Emily Friedberg said that despite the NY City Health Department report, New York City is requiring a more thorough review of materials proposed for synthetic turf fields. She also expressed concern that the community defeated a bond proposal in 2008 that would have funded two turf fields because of health and safety issues as well as the tax money. Ms. Friedberg also said there is a “moral problem” in discussing donated funds for a turf field at a time when more money is needed for other things in the School Budget (class size, asking teachers to agree to lesser salary raises). “But we are always worried about our fields,” she added.

Harry Lewis said the community approved a bond issue in 1996 for upgrading current grass fields and those bonds are still not paid off. School Board President John Brice said that bond was for $1 million and has two more years, but he pointed out that the bulk of the funds went to create an expanded Franklin Field. (In addition, the bond funded a new track and lighting at Glover Field, rebuilt the tennis courts, improved drainage of several fields, including Prospect, Friendship and Ingalls, improved the parking area at Glover and renovated the auto/metal shop into classrooms and moved the Administrative Offices from a house located on Franklin Field to the high school building.)

John Cassone suggested that any money raised by the Friends group be put to improvements to the natural grass fields.

Mr. Brice and School Board members Ted Howard and Doug Hearle also gave supportive comments on the plan by the Friends of Pelham Sports to donate money for a turf field, while noting that there is much still to be done to work out the details.

Mr. Howard said only one synthetic turf field is planned and it would be primarily for PMHS Varsity teams. “There is plenty of green grass, or brown mud, for the other fields.”

Mr. Hearle said the Board should give encouragement to the Friends group. He also thanked the physicians who have taken the time to study the issues and do research to analyze the various studies of health issues and synthetic turf fields, and then also attend Monday night’s meeting to discuss both sides of the questions.

Board President Brice, who did not seek re-election and completes his term on the Board at the end of this month, said the Friends group gives testimony to how the community often banded together in the past for the Library, Art Center and Children’s Center among other projects.

The School Board meeting was filmed for broadcast on Cablevision Channel 75 and for a video on www.pelhamschools.org.

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