Westfield school district supervisor of athletics Sandra Mamary said the faces of student athletes brighten when the topic of the proposed lighted turf field at Westfield High School comes up.
The multi-purpose field is the district’s response to an increasing amount of participation in athletics, a trend that will presumably only continue given the expected student population bump. Mamary said the facility would increase capacity for athletic and physical education activity, allow for repeated field use without damaging the grounds, and alleviate what has become a nightmare scheduling situation.
At a Westfield Board of Education meeting held in mid-May, the Board voted unanimously to approve a bond referendum that would fund the construction of a lighted artificial turf field at Westfield High School. (To view the PowerPoint Lighted Turf Field presentation, click here.)
But the proposed synthetic playing ground hasn't been met with universal enthusiasm. For many Westfield residents, the sticking point is that the funding for the field, which will cost an estimated $3.3 million, has been bundled with proposed roof repairs, estimated to cost $13 million. Westfield residents will vote on one bond referendum that, if passed, would finance both expenditures, on Monday, September 24.
While it has been argued by some residents that a necessity such as the roofs has been bundled with what they deem a luxury—the lighted turf field—Mamary said she believes the two are both important to the children of the Westfield school district.
"To me, the fact that we can't facilitate enough activity is an issue, and we should be able to," Mamary said. "Athletics and activity are a very important part of this town. This community takes health seriously. Being active means a healthy body and a healthy mind. We want children to be active and this will impact 80 percent of the children in Westfield. Everybody should be benefitting here."
Residents of the neighborhood surrounding the high school have expressed concerns that the proposed field, with seating for 540 and the capability to expand to accommodate up to 800, will bring bright lights, noise, and additional traffic to the area.
While she said it is not "concrete," Mamary suggested that the lights would be turned off by 9 p.m. She also said currently there are no plans to build any restrooms or locker rooms at the facility.
"A concession stand would be great, but there are no plans; we're just taking it in steps," Mamary said. "Do we want to have it available to bring in revenue? Absolutely, but we have to figure out how to be neighbor-friendly at the same time. We're very mindful of the neighborhood and their feelings but we also are mindful of the best interest of the whole."
Mamary said compromises have been made in that a public announcement system will not be installed nor will noisemakers be utilized at the field.
The athletics supervisor also noted that the cost to maintain natural grass fields was another factor that led the BOE and facilities committee to look to the turf option.
"You just can't keep up with maintaining grass fields with so much usage and increased demand," Mamary said. "You can pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into it but it's not financially sound. Clearly, a turf field is a safer environment. It is consistent. It can rain and an hour later you get to play on it right away. There are no holes, no rocks."
Mamary also added that between the school and the town, which owns the Sid Fay/Houlihan turf complex, a machine to groom the field is already available, so a new one will not need to be purchased.
While the turf at Kehler Stadium is expected to exceed its life expectancy because it has been well-maintained, Mamary said, it will need to be replaced shortly. "I can't imagine that's less than five years away," she said.
Mamary added that the turf at Sid Fay/Houlihan will need to be replaced sooner, though that cost will be borne by the Town of Westfield.
With the bond referendum vote less than two months away, Mamary said she just wants to make sure residents have all the information.
"No matter which way they vote, that's their choice but I want all the information out there," she said.
To hear more of Mamary's view on the field, watch the attached video.
This feature is just one in a multi-part series that explores the various views regarding the proposed field. Check back with Patch over the next several weeks for more on this issue. To see more on this topic, visit Patch's Lighted Turf Field Topic Page.