|Mount Greylock Subcommittee Backing Off Field Advisory Group Plan|
|By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff|
03:04PM / Wednesday, September 30, 2020
|The inaccessibility of the bleachers at John T. Allen Field is one of the concerns the Mount Greylock Regional School District must address in order to bring its fields into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.|
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The finance subcommittee of the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee last week discussed abandoning plans to recommend the full committee appoint an advisory panel to answer questions the elected officials had about a proposal to build an artificial turf field at the middle-high school.
As recently as mid-July
, that is the course the subcommittee advocated, but it felt the School Committee should hold off on forming the advisory group until the fall.
On Thursday, Carolyn Greene said that between the November election that promises at least three new members of the seven-person School Committee and a looming deadline the district faces to bring its fields into compliance with Title IX and the Americans with Disabilities Act, now is not the time to create a new committee on the issue.
"I reached out to potential members of the advisory committee, but then the advisory committee composition did not come before either the Finance Subcommittee or the School Committee for any kind of vote," Greene said. "We had a number of other things come up right around June/July 2020. We had a change in district leadership, we had a change in our business administrator."
Greene later emphasized in Thursday's subcommittee hearing that a decision to not form an advisory committee stems from a need to move forward more quickly.
"For all the people who said they were willing to serve on the advisory committee, and it's all documented, this is not an intentional effort to bypass that process," she said. "This is, because of the timing of lots of things that have happened in the district over the last couple of months in terms of changes in personnel.
"We did agree to a process, and there are going to be people who say, 'You agreed to a process and now you're not doing the process.' And that's a problem. It is a problem. But we are also facing a time crunch, and we have realities before us. I just want to acknowledge that it would have been a good process, but we also have other demands on our time."
The biggest time demand on the district: its April 2022 deadline to bring the fields into compliance with Title IX and the ADA.
That compliance was triggered by the district's $64 million addition/renovation project at Mount Greylock Regional School. By law, when you invest a certain percentage of a property's value in its infrastructure, you have to also make sure deficiencies previously "grandfathered" are rectified and the property brought up to code.
Even though the presence or absence of a synthetic turf field -- or any new playing field for that matter -- has nothing to do with the Title IX and ADA issues on the Mount Greylock campus, the conversation about the latter has been inextricably linked to the former since the School Committee's Phase 2 subcommittee produced a plan that addressed both topics as part of a package.
Mount Greylock got an extension to hold off on correcting the code issues on its playing fields (for example, accessibility issues in the bleachers at John Allen Field and softball fields that are inferior to the baseball fields) until after the building project itself was completed, but that extension runs out in April 2022.
Greene noted that means the work on the fields has to be completed in the summer and fall 2021 construction season, and that means putting the project out to bid by this winter or early spring at the latest.
"If I had to guess, I'd bet we could get another extension for the ADA compliance and Title IX compliance," Jamie Art said. "I'm not sure that's the right message for us. It makes me a little uncomfortable that we'd be willing to say that those issues aren't important or aren't priorities for us. I'm not comfortable with that.
"I'd like to keep on that time frame. I also think it would be helpful for the district to reach resolution on the turf field debate and move beyond that. I'm curious what you think is the shortest path to teeing this up so we have data we could show everyone from different parts of the spectrum to make an informed decision."
A lot of the data and the analysis already is in the district's hands thanks to the Phase 2 subcommittee. Greene when previously advocating for an advisory committee stressed that she did not want it to go over the same territory the Phase 2 group covered, and she has organized a lot of the input the district has gathered into a single spreadsheet.
That said, there are lingering questions for some members of the School Committee when it comes to the artificial turf field.
For Art, a big unknown is whether a decision to build a turf field now -- using proceeds from a $5 million capital gift
from Williams College -- means saddling the district with an unfunded expense down the road.
"The question is what happens when the carpet needs replacing, and how do we fund that?" Art said. "That cost question, for me, is something I've not been able to get my head wrapped around -- the idea that we're going to have the money available to fund that replacement without it impacting other priorities of the school district at that time."
Advocates of an artificial turf field -- and turf field manufacturers -- argue that the big upfront cost of installing an artificial turf field is offset by savings achieved by eliminating the upkeep needed on a similarly-sized natural grass field.
But the question is more nuanced than that, as indicated by an in-depth "Natural Grass vs. Synthetic Turf Study Report
" compiled in 2019 by the Government of Western Australia's Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries.
Among other things, the report found that depending on the athletic use in question, the 25-year and 50-year "ownership cost" for a synthetic field generally runs higher or about the same as a grass field; for one of the sports the Western Australian government looked at, soccer, the cost of a turf field could be almost double.
But ownership cost is just one factor, the report reads.
"As discussed elsewhere in this report there are many other factors that need to be considered when determining which surface is going to best meet the needs of a particular sport or club," the authors wrote. "For example, one of the major benefits of synthetic turf is that it can be programmed non-stop with little impact on the playing surface (but influences its longevity), whereas natural grass has only a finite capacity before the condition of the surface affects playability and, in some cases, player safety. All factors need to be considered when making a choice as to the preferred surface and this cost modelling also dispels the myth that synthetic turf has a lower cost in the long term."
For at least one member of the Mount Greylock School Committee, the superior playability of artificial turf surfaces make a synthetic turf field an obvious choice for the district.
"You also lose … October and November [with a grass field]," Al Terranova said. "If you look up organic turf fields and the studies that were done on the Cape … the problem becomes when you have frost and you run on frost, it compacts the roots, and the roots are the golden key to any grass field. Do we get frost in November in the Berkshires? Yes. Do we get frost in October in the Berkshires? Yes. So you lose October and November, not to mention March and April.
"And God forbid that, like now, we get a drought. I look at my back field right now, and it's all brown."
Terranova said he thinks questions about replacement cost, which the Phase 2 subcommittee addressed, are red herrings being used by opponents of a turf field, who he also accused of trying to "stall" on the issue until after the Nov. 3 election. Terranova, one of the strongest and most consistent voices for going forward with the project, is not standing for re-election this fall.
The School Committee as currently comprised has two meetings scheduled in October, Oct. 8 and 22, ahead of the biennial election.