The Rochester City School District school board will vote this week on spending $5.4 million on installing artificial turf and making other athletic field improvements at the Franklin and Wilson Foundation campuses. Two more unidentified schools are in the pipeline. East High School’s artificial turf, which is costing $1.8 million and funded through the Facilities Modernization Plan is already under construction.
There are a lot of questions about this expenditure. But one of them should not be about priorities. Yes, many city children are failing academically, but does that mean they can’t have nice things? A singular focus on academics led to the decimation of art, music and physical education in the district. This focus even led to the Common Core and intense focus on testing. City children deserve the same amenities and cultural enrichment as their suburban peers.
Now that we got that out of the away, let’s talk about other issues with this proposal. There’s a giant lack of transparency. When I saw the item on the board agenda, the district refused to make the athletic director available for an interview and had precious few details. That’s unacceptable when millions of dollars are at stake.
Here’s what I want to know:
1. How will football participation be increased? Assuming football programs would be a primary user of artificial turf, the district should spell out how it’s going to boost participation.
Former NFL player Roland Williams was paid $34,000 by the district to assess the program. He found it’s in “dire straits.” Field condition is only part of the problem. Williams found a lack of interest and undeveloped coaches. Academic eligibility remains a big issue. Williams also suggested consolidating into four teams, which begs of the question of whether five fields are needed. More on that later.
2. What about other sports? I’m assuming the district wants other sports to use the fields. But there are few soccer and lacrosse teams in city schools. There are four boys soccer teams and two girls teams. There are no boys or girls lacrosse teams. Is there a plan to create more teams and increase participation?
Are baseball and softball fields also getting artificial turf? The specifics and cost-breakdown of these planned upgrades have not been spelled out.
3. Do you need five fields? The district would have artificial turf at East, Wilson Foundation, Franklin and two unidentified schools that would be approved at a later date.
Those two additional schools should be identified. Even more importantly, the district should release an analysis of the field use and schedules. Something like that should exist, given the magnitude of this expenditure.
One of the fields is proposed at Wilson Foundation, which doesn’t even have a high school large enough to support a football team. This suggests the district is already going to be in field-sharing mode. To what extent has the district explored field-sharing?
The district would like to host community leagues and Section V events. Are there any commitments for these organizations to use the new fields? Is there demand?
The district is installing lights at the new fields. We don’t know the cost breakout, but in Penfield, stadium lights exceeded $1 million. Are there going to be a lot of night games to justify the lights?
Furthermore, there’s a great publicly-owned artificial turf field that could really use the rent money: Sahlen’s Stadium.
4. What’s the real cost to the district? The district maintains the state will reimburse 98 percent of the cost. Those are still taxpayer dollars. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should do something. The district could use these funds on other construction projects, so it’s not a use-it or lose-it scenario.
The district should provide a cost-benefit analysis. We don’t have the details on the type of turf the district is installing and the average annual maintenance. We also don’t know what the district spends on maintaining its grass fields. We should also be told how many events get canceled because of grass field condition.
The only thing we know is the district says it will save $60,000 a year in renting other fields.
We generally know artificial turf fields cost less to maintain, but they also have to be replaced every 10 to 15 years. It’s not clear if the state would pay for the replacement, too. Artificial turf is more expensive in the beginning and over time according to this university analysis and this sports maintenance company.
Perhaps spending extra money on artificial turf and athletic field upgrades is okay, but we need a lot more information to make that judgment.
Links of the Day:
– Safe to listen to Bon Jovi again? He reportedly would keep the Bills in Buffalo.
– Women are now shut out of delivering homilies in the Catholic Diocese of Rochester.
– Sad and maddening tale of a Western New York doctor who is in prison and his two young friends who died of heroin overdoses.
– “This child, and tens of thousands like her, are forcing this country to confront a moral dilemma…”
– San Francisco may drop the speed limit to 20 miles per hour. Don’t be surprised if this talk comes up in Rochester.
– Check out the average weekly wage in every county in the U.S. with this interactive map.
Tweet of the Day:
— Todd Stahl (@titanART57) July 20, 2014