CHARLES TOWN – On April 1, the Jefferson County Board of Education voted unanimously to allocate $1.46 million to replace both tracks at Washington and Jefferson High Schools, as well as Washingtons’ football field. At the time, no money was set aside for Jefferson’s field that was not usable for a portion of the 2018 fall soccer season due to weather, normal wear and tear and, according to some, the Musselman football team's postgame celebration.
According to the story originally posted on the school boards’ website, the fixes are set to be complete by fall 2019 and the respective track seasons "will not be affected by the construction."
The article also states that, "A recent analysis of the more than decade old field at WHS showed that while it was not unsafe by industry standards, it was showing its age and created a higher than average risk of injury for students. Both tracks have unusable lanes that are beyond repair and need to be completely replaced.”
Artificial turf, if used frequently like a football or soccer field, must be replaced every five to 10 years. This maintains its shock absorbent qualities and ability to hold up to weather.
According to a 2014 Forbes article, even when household income was falling taxpayers were carrying the main load of municipality spending on turf fields. The article states that the reason so much was being spent was that “taxpayers have been getting hoodwinked by bogusanalysis into thinking artificial turf fields are cheaper than natural grass.”
The article continues, citing taxpayer money going towards maintenance (including replacement) after the warrantees expire.
“One of the artificial turf industry’s selling points is that an artificial turf field will last eight-to-10 years, even though the usual warranty runs for only eight, and that the initial exorbitant cost of installation is recouped in no time from tens of thousands in savings from no longer maintaining a natural grass field. Another way proponents of artificial turf skew the math in their favor is by saying many more events will be held on the field once artificial turf is installed, thereby lowering "the cost per event" on the field relative to natural grass. But who knows if that math is based on reality? How can anyone accurately predict the future demographics of a town?” Mike Ozanian writes.
From an observation standpoint alone, Jefferson’s field seemed the worse for the wear. After heavy rain throughout the summer and fall, plus the Musselman football team's celebration and wear from other Cougar football and soccer games, it sustained substantial damage – but not enough for the school board to allocate money.
The Washington field is slightly over a decade old, so on paper the field should be replaced or, at the least, there should be consideration to replace it. The two main costs, as all infrastructure jobs, is material and manpower.
For the turf field only, FieldTurf, a subsidiary of Tarkett Sports Company, estimated that the site work subtotal as $158,503.35, and the material cost as $405,471.40. Add in $7,049.68 for performance and payment bonds – a surety that guarantees a contractor will pay their workers and suppliers – and the project total comes out to $571,024.43.
For field and track replacement, labor costs are $388,103.35, plus the turf cost and track surfacing (261,852.20) brings the project subtotal to $1,055,426.95. The bonds add another $13,192.84 to the total, bringing the final cost to $1,068,619.79.
That leaves $391,380.21 for Jefferson High School’s track. If costs are the same, it would leave a cushion of $129,528.01.
In response to questioning about why the school board didn’t allocate funds to Jefferson High School’s field, school board director of communications Hans Fogle cited the current 10-year plan as a means for future upgrades.
“At the moment, we are working on our CEFP, or Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan,” Fogle said. “It will include a 10-year-plan for all of our facilities, from schools to athletic fields. At this point there has been no talk of cost. We’re still working with our staff, parents, and community partners to determine our anticipated needs. Those needs are steered by the condition of our current facilities, projected growth, [and more].”
“As you saw, the football field at Washington High School is at the end of its useful life,” Fogle said. “If the field was to be replaced for use next year, the time to act was now. Replacing the track at the same time proved cost effective and appropriate since there were whole lanes we could not use. The track at Jefferson High is in similar condition, and requests had been made.
“Since we had someone working on one track, it made economic sense to have both done at once. There are additional needs for athletic facilities. One of the main functions of the upcoming meetings is to determine what the priorities need to be, keeping in mind that the safety of students is paramount.”
Fogle’s response suggests that just because the board didn’t discuss money for the Jefferson High football and soccer field, does not mean money will be withheld from the school. Others in the community, however, view this as Jefferson High being shortchanged due to an expedited process.
Following up on a post from the Cougar boys soccer page on Facebook, a source who did not provide their name relayed that they were shocked to see FieldTurf was the only bid submitted and unanimously approved by the school board.
“[The board] is using the same vendor who installed the current field, which has had substantial issues. The proposal attached has many exclusions, which mean that the cost will skyrocket. They are paying $15,000 to put a ‘W’ in the middle of the field,” the source said, albeit $2,500 off from the noted cost of the ‘W’. “If soil systems are unsuitable or they can not rectify the sink hole, additional costs will be incurred. In the event that the field will not be ready on August 1, what are the backup plans for the Washington fall athletic program?”
“Ralph Dinges presented and pressed the board with less than two weeks to make a decision which is what may have led to a less successful choice in field materials. Mr. Dinges has been aware of this issue for years and could have provided ample time for the board to make a decision without a time crunch.”
According to safehealthyplayingfields.org, natural grass fields with annual inputs of $20,000 to $30,000 are paramount to maintaining a safe playing area. That amount is more than covered by the remaining cushion, should that pocket not be heavily delved into.
Considering what goes into maintaining a grass field – mowing, spraying, seeding, painting. and at times bringing in new soil, it’s possible that the board has workers who can fix the field by August 1 in a shorter window than it takes for a turf field to be replaced. It was shown that during the 2018 season, maintenance put in countless hours to make sure the field would be safe for soccer and football games. Those games happened, and the team went back to work to repair any damages that had occurred.
As for the track, the board is allocating money to fix it. With parts of the track separating, it was an immediate concern to repair it.
A multitude of questions are raised by the move by the school board. Did Dinges move quickly because of time constraints for construction, or is there another reason he moved with just one bid? When did bidding open? How long does it take for a grass field to be revitalized so that student athletes aren’t hurt? And, lastly, who is footing the bill for the $1.46 million – will property taxes be affected or will bond money go towards construction?
Due to Jefferson County Schools going on spring break, Fogle and Dinges were not able to respond to questions by the time of this article publishing. These questions and more will be answered in part two of the ongoing series surrounding this topic.