A turf field Q-and-A

By now, voters in the Saranac Lake Central School District are starting to hear about two significant propositions that will be on the ballot on May 21. If approved, they would allow the district to install a turf field, lights, scoreboard, bleachers and press box at the high school.

I’ve heard a lot of questions about these proposals lately, so I decided to answer them here as best as I can. My answers are based on information provided by the school district, recent school board meetings, my own research, and my take as a parent, coach, taxpayer and Saranac Lake resident.

Is the turf field only for football?

No, the turf field would be sized and lined to accommodate multiple sports including soccer, lacrosse, football and flag football. If the football program wants to keep playing at Wilson Raymond Field, it could, but the turf field would be available for practice. The turf field could also be used as a practice field for other sports teams, and it would be available for use by the community.

Will only a small number of students benefit?

No. Forty-five percent of Saranac Lake students in grades 7-12 participate in fall sports, and 51% participate in spring sports. The split of male and female athletes is roughly 50-50, so it’s not as if this would be more for the boys than the girls. The younger kids in our district would also benefit, as it could be used for field days, events, and youth sports.

Will my taxes go up if the turf field is approved?

No. There is no tax levy impact from Proposition 3 itself. The district would cover it using capital reserve funds and state building aid. Yes, there will be a tax increase if Proposition 4 is approved. If you own a $200,000 home, it will cost between $4-8 more per year on your tax bill.

Where is the money coming from?

For Proposition 3, the district plans to use $2.8 million in capital reserve funds, another $397,563 from a separate capital fund, and borrow $782,437. The latter is why the words “tax levy” are in Proposition 3, but the cost of the borrowing will be covered by state building aid. That’s why, once again, there is no tax levy impact.

How much money is in the capital reserve fund?

It is expected to have an ending balance of $3.8 million by June 30. If Proposition 3 is approved by the voters, it would have a remaining balance of $1 million. That leaves plenty of seed money for future capital projects.

Could the money be used for something else?

Capital reserve funds can be used for purchasing school buses, facility construction, and equipment, as long as the project is specific, and it’s approved by the voters. The money can’t be used for staffing and supplies.

Why do we need turf?

Natural grass fields are great, and the district will continue to use them, but our weather severely limits their use. In the spring, our lacrosse, baseball and softball teams are typically not able to practice outside until several weeks into the season, sometimes not even before their first game. Turf will extend the fall sports season, and the addition of lights will allow more outside practices to be scheduled. Natural grass fields are more expensive to maintain (plus the fertilizer and pesticides), require down time to recover, and can we talk about the goose poop issue? A turf field provides a more cost-efficient, durable and consistent playing surface. It can be used in all types of weather, creating more opportunities for our kids to grow their skills. Many districts in our region — Plattsburgh, AuSable Valley, Northeastern Clinton, Beekmantown, Potsdam, St. Lawrence Central — have already made the move to turf.

What about our declining enrollment?

I get it. It may seem frivolous to build a turf field when enrollment is dropping, but shouldn’t we do all we can to improve the school district for families who still live here? These improvements could also make us more attractive for those looking to move here. Thanks to our excellent teachers and staff, we have a top-notch academic program. Our four-year high school graduation rate is 96%, better than most districts in our area. We have outstanding art and music programs. The Community Schools initiative has created so many positive opportunities for our kids. Yet our athletic facilities have not had significant upgrades in decades, except for the new track.

What about turf’s potential health risk to our kids?

Yes, there are health concerns about the materials used in turf fields, but recent research has shown the impacts are limited. In 2016, the CDC, the EPA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission launched a multi-agency research effort on the use of tire crumbs in playing fields. It is the largest study of its kind in the U.S. Their final report, released just last month (https://tinyurl.com/y9a99d5h), found that “although chemicals are present … and exposures can occur, they are likely limited.”

I have three kids enrolled in the school district. One of the things our family loves about Saranac Lake is our amazing recreational opportunities: Skiing, paddling, hiking, biking, fishing — you name it. And we continue to invest in recreation: Upgrades to our village parks, new pickleball courts, a new mountain bike park and trails, the new rail trail, our beautiful new Civic Center. A few years back we built a new T-bar at Mt. Pisgah and a new lodge at Dewey Mountain. Recreation also brings people to our community: The Can-Am Rugby Tournament, Can-Am Hockey, the 90-Miler, the Empire State Games, the 3P Race, to name a few.

My point is, recreation is part of what makes Saranac Lake special, just like the arts, music, our business community, and our schools. Now we have the chance to create another recreational asset that will benefit our kids and community for years to come, and we can do it at no cost to the taxpayers. Why wouldn’t we take advantage of it?

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Chris Knight lives in Saranac Lake.


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