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East Meadow residents take a stand on turf fields

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About two dozen East Meadow students, parents and other residents raised their hands to show their support for installing two synthetic-turf football fields, filled with green rubber granules, in the East Meadow School District.

That was one of four options the Board of Education presented to the community at a Feb. 5 public hearing, with trustees detailing the pros and cons of each method they are considering to replace the grass football fields at East Meadow and W.T. Clarke high schools.

The district has been renovating its fields as part of a $58.8 million joint school and library bond that voters passed in March of 2017. The Leon J. Campo Salisbury Center, the district’s hub, had a new grass field installed in the summer of 2018.

The district’s current plan, detailed in the bond, is to install a new $600,000 grass football field at East Meadow High. Based on feedback from the community, however, trustees are now exploring the possibility of using synthetic turf at the high school and on another field at Clarke. Once they decide on an option, it will be presented as an addendum to the bond and put to a public vote alongside the budget in May.

Residents made their preferred option clear at last week’s meeting, when no hands were raised for the other three options: turf filled with black rubber granules, recycled sneakers or a blend of coconut and cork.

Peter Stea, a board member of the East Meadow Parent Athletic Committee, polled the attendees during the public comment session. The committee has long advocated for synthetic-turf fields in the district, and collected 640 signatures on a petition on Change.org called “EMPAC and the East Meadow Community for Synthetic Turf for a Multi Use Field at EMHS.”

Stea said he is used to having his daughter Lauren, a freshman lacrosse player and cheerleader, express her frustration with having to compete on the district’s grass field. He described the surface as uneven, covered in weeds and, when it rains, full with mud.

When Lauren and her cheer teammates practice, she said, they have to concentrate to avoid rolling an ankle or losing their balance when attempting a stunt.

“We don’t need to argue why we need these fields anymore,” Stea said. “Our job now is to spread the word that this is going to be on our ballot. We put a lot of work and thought into this, and it doesn’t matter unless people come out and vote.”

The school board held its first public forum on the matter last June, and has since heard from dozens of people at subsequent board meetings who favor turf fields.

“The fields we have right now are struggling — that’s no secret,” said Doug Bange, the head football coach at East Meadow High School. “We have tried and tried to fix them in the past, and we end up in the same spot.”

Option 1 is turf filled with black rubber granules made from recycled tires, which is the least expensive option, at $2,524,000. One of its advantages, trustees pointed out, is that it is the most common type of turf field, and district students should be familiar with playing on it. A major disadvantage, however, is that the surface absorbs heat the fastest, and must be watered to keep it cool on hot days.

Option 2, turf filled with green rubber granules, is more expensive, at $2,582,080, but absorbs less heat, and is more aesthetically pleasing because of the color.

Option 3, turf filled with recycled sneaker granules, would cost $2,717,600. It is more innovative, with its use of recycled material, but the granules are multi-colored, which could affect the visibility of the lines on the field, and there is limited information on the material’s safety.

Option 4, the most expensive at $3,579,120, has granules made from a biodegradable blend of coconut and cork. It poses risks to students with coconut allergies, however, and requires extra moisture and pesticides to prevent the growth of weeds.

Booster Club President Mary Bartunek said it would be “a matter of pride” to install Option 2, and resident Josh Tobon called it a “no-brainer.”

Tobon has nearly a decade of experience officiating NCAA football games. “I’ve seen fields everywhere across the U.S.,” he said. “Will they get turf burn on this? Probably. But you could see they move faster and are more comfortable on it.”

Now that board trustees have analyzed the pros and cons of the four options, they plan to select one. The board is inviting the community to voice any additional concerns at a public hearing on March 5 at 6 p.m., an hour before their next meeting.