QUAKERTOWN, Pa. - A new $1.365 million artificial turf field will be installed at Alumni Field this year, in time for the fall high school sports season.
The Quakertown Community Board of School Directors approved a bid Thursday night from Grace Industries Inc. of Bath, by an 8-1 margin to move forward with the project.
But before voting, the board heard more than 90 minutes of public comment from angry citizens, most of them parents of Quakertown Elementary School students, who fiercely argued against the proposal.
The drainage from the new turf field will flow in a retention area behind Quakertown Elementary School, which will effectively take away a good portion of the grassy areas where students play during recess time.
"It's very sad that we've been put in this position," said board member Joyce King, who was the only school director to address the large crowd in the Quakertown Community meeting room before the vote. "We have a responsibility to move forward.
There are a lot of people from outside the Quakertown Elementary community who want this. There are a lot of people out there who have an opposing view."
School Board vice-president Gary Landes cast the lone dissenting vote.
Parents said Quakertown Elementary students are devastated that their green space that's utilized for recess is being taken away.
They wore a path to the microphone at the podium to voice their displeasure.
"Where are the kids supposed to have their outdoor recess and physical education?" said Quakertown resident Ellen Stack. "The retention basin is going to attract geese and then we'll have droppings. Who is going to escort the children across the street to the turf field?"
Resident Scott Hendricks said he was appalled by the plan to install artificial turf at Alumni Field.
"You are losing sight of the mission, which is education," he said. "We need the money to finish the high school renovation project and now you're talking about a (budget) deficit? The field is a nice want, not a need."
Resident Jennifer Winter said the directors depriving students of meaningful physical activity during the school day.
"They need the release," she said. "Sure, they have the playground equipment and the blacktop, but they want to run and get their release. This is their exercise and you're taking their running space away."
Resident Jennifer Roth said directors have "a lot of very upset people here for a lot of different reasons, and now you have a divided community."
Several of those upset people took to the podium again following the vote to berate directors on their decision.
A common theme during the initial public comment period was the lack of transparency and communication throughout the process of planning the artificial turf field, even though discussions started on the topic nearly two years ago.
Director Robert Smith pointed out that discussion to place an artificial turf surface on Alumni Field was named as a top priority back in April of 2012.
The new field will be utilized by the high school's football, boys and girls soccer, girls field hockey and boys and girls lacrosse teams.
Smith said the current grass field is not suitable for further use and would require more than $250,000 in repairs to make it useable and safe for football season.
A Q&A handout given to the public prior to the meeting stated that a delayed vote on the turf field would incur additional costs, as the bid received by Grace Industries was very favorable.
The handout said the new field is being paid for by funds tied to the Quakertown High School renovation, which were garnered at a low borrowing rate.
"If this is not done with this long-term borrowing plan, it will most likely never get done," the handout read.
Smith said a facilities planning meeting will be scheduled and advertised in the near future in order to determine whether or not the impact to Quakertown Elementary School's property can be mitigated.
"We heard your comments and we have to do something," said board president Paul Stepanoff.
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