$13 Million Athletic Fields Approved

Tuesday, 7/23/13, the Batavia School Board approved the $13 million plan to redevelop the high school athletic fields. The plan was put under the capital development fund and includes 2 artificial turf fields, razing the arboretum, demolishing and rebuilding a maintenance building, and installing underground stormwater drainage.

Pat Browne, director of buildings and grounds for the school district, is an excellent salesman. At the June school board meeting, he presented the plan, emphasizing the idea that artificial turf was necessary for all the students who can’t practice on-site because the grass needs to rest between games, causing great inconvenience. It all sounds so good….until you begin to ask questions.

When asked how many teams are inconvenienced, what was the answer? Marching band and varsity soccer (practices, not games). Two groups. And how did these students get to these off site locations–bus? No, the older athletes drove while others jogged. Yes, jogged. They only have to travel to nearby H.C. Storm School. So, the masterminds behind this plan want to spend $13 million taxpayer dollars so a small fraction of the student body won’t have to expend any extra energy to go to the nearby school and use the fields that were constructed for that purpose?

A board member later asked about the increased risk of injury due to artificial turf. The turf is over concrete, right? No, it’s a carpet over stone. And will there be more concussions, torn ligaments? Browne masterfully evaded that question by saying “the conditions that are present in a synthetic surface are much more consistent,” so the athletes will be less likely to misstep. Good redirection. Don’t address the pounding of helmets on “carpet over stone” (mixed bag: warm grass is slightly safer than artificial turf, though frozen ground is worse) or the documented 67% increase in injury to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL–a ligament in the knee) from the increased friction on the synthetic surface. Talk instead about how one might lose his footing on grass. Certainly don’t volunteer all the other dangers of artificial turf the University of Arkansas highlights, like excessive surface temperatures on hot, sunny days (averages over 40 degrees higher!) and increased skin abrasions and infections.

As for cost, Mr. Browne conveniently did not have the figures on hand as to what it would cost to maintain the current fields vs. the cost of constructing this plan; nary a word about artificial turf needing to be replaced every 8-10 years. But then Batavia taxpayers needn’t worry about cost. For as Assistant Superintendent Kris Monn and some board members were quick to point out, this $13 million project can be spread out over time, done in phases. So, really, it will still cost…well,… $13 million, but the sticker shock won’t be as bad.

Then, just when you think you’ve heard it all, it gets worse. This plan will not be financed by bonds. Why is that bad? Because, by law, only a bonded issue can be taken by citizens to a binding referendum. We can have a citizens’ initiative for a referendum, but it would only be advisory and the school board wouldn’t be bound by the vote. After the failure of the Park District’s rec center by referendum, the school district couldn’t take a chance. If they hide it in the capital development fund it is safe. They got REALLY smart. Oh, and at the same time the school board approved this plan, that they say is really just a plan for some time in the future, or for “if we hit the lottery,” it is made known that there will be a windfall $4.7 million coming from the Chicago Premium Outlet Mall in 2014 from the expired TIF district. (Correction: After consultation with a former school board member who served many years ago–when the school board spent our money responsibly–and assuming laws have not changed, TIF funds have to be directed into the district’s separate funds according to the percentages set for the distribution of taxes. In other words, the Education Fund would get most of the money, not Operations and Maintenance or Capital Development. However, it was noted there are procedures for moving money around between funds.)

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