Taking sides in the field fight at Central
GREENWICH — A group of parents have joined forces to oppose the possible installation of artificial turf on the field of Central Middle School.
School officials, however, say they do not know whether they will pursue a turf field until they complete a feasibility study that will point to best use of the land.
Greenwich has long juggled field space as school sports teams and recreational leagues have competed for limited playing surfaces. Although the large field behind CMS could help alleviate the high demand, frequent flooding closes the space for days at a time.
Synthetic turf would solve that problem — and give high school sports teams another practice location — but the parent group says that opportunity would come at a great cost to the health of their children and the safety and makeup of the neighborhood.
“We’re not against fields,” said Liane Tel, a Central parent and resident of Coach Lamp Lane whose daughter often cannot practice field hockey because CMS’s drainage system cannot dry the land after a rainstorm. “We do think our town lacks fields. We just want them to be regular natural grass that’s properly maintained.”
The parents have collected about 1,000 signatures, recruited area businesses and secured financial support from homeowners’ associations. Once school resumes, members plan to meet with town officials, plan public forums and get another 1,000 signatures, according to Tel.
Meantime, Greenwich Public Schools will soon embark on a feasibility study of the field that will take several months to complete, according to Kim Eves, communications director for Greenwich Public Schools.
“This phase of the project will focus on a comprehensive review of options for field surfaces (i.e. both natural (grass) and artificial turf), drainage systems, options for field layouts, and cost analyses,” Eves said in a statement.
The parents’ agitation is fueled by confusion over the school system’s and the town’s intentions for the field.
First Selectman Peter Tesei included money for a feasibility study in his proposed capital budget for the fiscal year. But he stated in his budget message that the study would be for a grass field only. But the capital budget that was eventually approved includes an explanatory document that calls for a study only examining the installation of a synthetic surface.
“The district is in dire need of playing fields for all levels of athletics,” the document states. “The installation of a complete synthetic surfaced playing field could alleviate the need to cancel programming during inclement weather.”
The document also states the installation of lights would solve the need for evening practice space in town, another point that has parents worried.
“If the parameters of the study were changed, it was done by the Board of Education,” Barbara Heins, executive assistant to the first selectman, said in an email.
For Board of Education member Peter Sherr, the upset has its roots in the Parks and Recreation Department’s original 2016 proposal to artificially turf most of the CMS field. Further, he recalled, the BOE’s discussions over the last year-and-a-half often turned to turf because the high school athletic department requires synthetic surfaces for practice.
“It’s understandable that residents, parents and taxpayers are confused because different things have been said at different times over the last 18 months,” Sherr said.
Parents oppose turf for several reasons.
They argue that children who play on turf fields are exposed to carcinogens and infectious diseases, and that turf materials pollute water, air and soil.
Arthur Yee, a specialist in infectious diseases and Greenwich resident of 20 years, said a child’s long-term health overrides what he called the slight increase in playing time a synthetic turf field would provide.
“Do you agree with the cliché, if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything?” asked Yee, a member of the Coach Lamp Lane Homeowners Association. “We forget what the most important things in life are.”
Turf is composed of three parts: backing material, plastic blades and infill. The fill comes in three varieties: crumb rubber (made of ground tires), acrylic-coated sand and organic material such as ground coconut shells.
Crumb rubber includes cancer-causing agents, Yee said. And artificial turf is a ripe environment for MRSA superbug, which causes staph infections, he said.
The synthetic turf fields at Greenwich High School use the sand infill.
The parents maintain all turf is potentially harmful; the difference between fill is degrees.
“They’re job is tough,” Yee said of the school board. “They have to mediate between parents who want more playing fields and us who don’t want more carcinogens.”
Turf, they also claim, will cost taxpayers more in maintenance, increase neighborhood traffic and rob area residents of a gathering space.
The area around Central now has a synagogue, a nursery school and is the planned site for Greenwich Country Day School’s Upper School, Tel said.
“I don’t see why we have to add something else,” she said.
She suggested other alternatives, including acquiring a large parcel of land in the backcountry.
“I think there’s an opportunity here to put in a drainage system (at Central) and proper maintenance,” Tel said. “A lot of people don’t know the intent is to turf.”
Currently, CMS students, intramural and interscholastic athletic programs and Parks and Recreation rentals for youth and adult sports leagues use the field, Eves said.
Sherr said he could not evaluate the options without knowing who would use it.
“It makes no sense to build a field that a whole bunch of sports can’t use,” he said.