Sag Harbor Plans a Real Grass Field

Christopher Walsh

With Sag Harbor voters having delivered a definitive “no” on Dec. 14 on whether to use artificial turf for the athletic field at Pierson Middle and High School — the vote was 1,016 to 135 — the school district is developing a proposal for a natural grass field and set Feb. 15 for a new vote.

The proposal rejected last week was to use $365,000 from the district’s capital reserve fund to supplement the $1.62 million approved in November 2013 for the athletic field. A new vote is necessary because the money approved at the time specified the use of artificial turf. Using money for grass instead also required special legislation from New York State.

“The board has always been united in our desire to have a safe playing field for the students at Pierson,” Diana Kolhoff, the school board president, said in an email Tuesday. “Now that we know the community was not in favor of using capital reserve funds to fund a reduced-scope synthetic turf project, we can move forward with the natural grass alternative.”

The district now has $1.45 million available to work on the Pierson Middle and High School field, an architect’s fee having been deducted from the original amount. Included in the new proposal is the installation of a natural grass practice field at the Sag Harbor Elementary School, which could be used by the community for youth sports events as well as the school’s students. A hard-surface multipurpose court, intended for games and other activities for  elementary school students, is also in the plans.

A handful of community members in attendance to hear the results of the vote last week were satisfied with the outcome. “This is a great victory for the health of our children and the environment,” said Helen Roussel, a parent of three children in the Sag Harbor schools. Health concerns, which were not alleged in 2013, had caused controversy at school board meetings in recent months.

In a statement following the vote, the Pierson Parent Teacher Student Association, which, along with the Sag Harbor Elementary PTA, had come out against synthetic turf, said, “It’s incredible to see the community come together this way. This shows the power of communication and the power of openly sharing information. This also shows how much this community cares about its kids and their long-term health, and how important preserving our beautiful town and its resources really is.”

While the school board has now unanimously agreed to put the natural grass proposal to a community vote, individual board members disagreed on the options during the discussion leading up to that decision at Monday’s board meeting. A two-lane walking track once included as part of the synthetic field emerged as a sticking point.

“A lot of ‘no’ votes came from a tremendous disappointment that it was a scaled-down version of what they approved,” Stephanie Bitis, a board member, said. “They were upset because a lot of those components were removed. Every single part of the project around it, from scoreboards to bleachers to concrete to staircases, can we now put it back in?”

“I do think that this is a big deal and if we do it, we should do it right,” Chris Tice, another board member, said. “We’ve got to put out the right proposition. I think it does warrant the conversation of should we have a track.”

After Jennifer Buscemi, the business administrator, said adjusting the proposal for the track would delay the possibility of holding the vote in February, Susan Lamontagne, a board member, suggested the track “could potentially be done at a later date so we can get this field in. We can add a track later.”

An estimate of $415,000 for a new grass, or sod, field at Pierson, had come from the district’s architectural firm, BBS Architects. That figure does not include additional work, such as perimeter fencing, concrete stairs leading to the middle school gym, and new rolling bleachers.

However, Gregg Stanley, the certified golf course superintendent at the Bridge Golf Club, which has donated tens of thousands of dollars in labor and materials to help the district with the field at Pierson, told the school board a natural grass field could be cultivated for about $185,000. “I really just want to say thank you for allowing us to help with the fields last fall and last summer. Going forward, the district should know we are squarely behind the school. . . . We’re happy to help in any way that we can,” Mr. Stanley said.

Timing was another factor in the board’s decision to call for a vote in February. A sod field would take about six weeks to take root, according to Larry Salveson of BBS Architects, meaning that students would be able to use it by next fall. Mr. Stanley, however, said cultivating the field naturally would take about 12 weeks so that students might not be able to play on it that quickly.

 Ms. Buscemi said the February vote would give the district barely enough time to get a sod field project approved by the state, request bids from interested contractors, and get the work completed.

“I think with the money that we have, and adding the additional work over at the elementary school, I really like that,” Tommy John Schiavoni, the school board vice president, said. “I don’t want to delay this any longer.”