Board Member Says Artificial Turf Not Best Use Of Bond

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Today’s Extra Points has been turned over to Payson School Board member Barbara Underwood, who took issue with a column I wrote on Feb. 23 questioning the board’s decision to not fund a project to revamp the PHS athletic fields with all-weather, artificial surfaces.

The project was part of a bond issue voters passed in 2006.

Underwood entitles the column, “I didn’t jump ship; I was just hit by a tidal wave.”

She writes:

Before becoming a board member I was part of the original bond committee. I want to explain the events that led to the decision to not turf the fields. When the committee was considering putting turf on the three fields, we talked with Mr. (Bill) Schwind (previous parks and recreation director). At that time he estimated the cost to turf the three fields to be less than $1 million. We considered how much water would be saved by converting to turf, how much time and maintenance would be saved, and included this as part of the bond election. It was placed on the ballot at a high estimate of approximately $1.5 million.

In 2009 the estimated cost of turf came in at $2.2 million. To complicate the issue during this time, building renewal funds were not funded by the state. Those are funds that would have been used to complete other projects such as Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning (HVAC) and roofs. Due to those monies being suspended, we were forced to move those necessary costs into the bond. Then as everyone knows the state’s economy took a dive and as a result, school funding dropped dramatically and is still dropping.

By the time the state cuts and recession hit, we had about $3 million left in the bond money to finish up all projects including the turf. The needs of the district, such as HVAC in classrooms and the auditorium, roofs on several buildings at PHS, updating science labs, a vocational building, and buses, moved high on the list of priorities. Because we would no longer receive funding to replace them, all items had to be considered.

Superintendent (Casey) O’Brien explained in a presentation all of our facility needs. The turf would only save the district $8,453 a year in reclaimed water, there would still be some maintenance, and the life expectancy would only be 10-15 years. With that all being said, the board unanimously supported the heating and cooling to be fixed, new roofs, science labs, replacement of buses, and a smaller VOC-ED building (the majority of funding coming Northern Arizona Vocation Institute of Technology (NAVIT). It would have been hard to use all that money for turf. I know it seems like I jumped ship, but the fields are still playable and priorities changed.

As a board member, I have a fiscal responsibility to the entire community to do what is best for the district with the budget available.

I added up the savings for the 15-year life span of the turf. I believe that it would be poor management of public funds to go ahead with the turf at cost of $150,000 per year ($2.2 million divided by 15 years or more), and a savings of $8,453 plus per year, when facing unprecedented budget challenges.

The cost of the turf was already $700,000 over the estimate that we based our decision on to put it on the ballot. In 15 years (or sooner) the turf would need to be replaced. I don’t think $2.2 million would cover the cost of replacement.

I also feel a responsibility to the student athletes. I believe that with proper maintenance, and maybe keeping the football team off of the baseball field, the fields can be safe, playable, and something that we can all be proud of.

Many steps have already been taken to improve the fields and I believe we will continue to see improvements.

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