East Meadow rejoins the turf war

School district details options for new football fields

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Some students in the East Meadow School District have been pressuring the Board of Education to replace their grass football fields with synthetic turf.

At a Board of Education meeting on Dec. 4, the board revisited the idea, and discussed the options with roughly a dozen residents. “A lot of people brought some interesting points for us to look at,” said Patrick Pizzo, the district’s assistant superintendent for business and finance. “We wanted to look at every option we could, and identify what’s used at schools locally, and what works best for them.”

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 grass field that was 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 School. Now, however, the district is exploring four different options for a synthetic-turf field at EMHS and an additional one at W.T. Clarke high/middle school, which Pizzo presented in a PowerPoint slideshow at the board meeting (see box, Page 14).

Last June, district residents first voiced their concerns about playing on natural grass to the board. When athletes compete on other districts’ artificial-turf fields, “It’s a disadvantage to us, because we’re not used to playing on turf,” said Lauren Stea, an eighth-grade lacrosse player and cheerleader at the high school.

The school’s field is dotted with weeds, divots and small hills, Lauren said. When she and her cheer teammates practice, they have to concentrate to avoid rolling an ankle or losing their balance when they attempt a stunt, she said.

Grass-field advocates, however, have cited health concerns about the material with which the turf is made. The National Center for Biotechnology Information confirmed that hazardous chemicals like lead and mercury have been found in the recycled tires used to create turf’s crumb-rubber bedding.

But in September 2017, the NCBI concluded that there is “little risk to [athletes] and children, but some risk to installation workers” and that finding conclusive evidence of the turf’s effects on people could take decades.

Parents said that their children are already exposed to the turf when they play at other schools. “These kids go from district to district, playing on their turf fields,” said Helen Meittinis, president of the Community Association of Stewart Avenue. “It’s not like you’re keeping them safe when every other school uses them.”

“Our athletes are at a disadvantage, and we have such a great athletic program, the kids in the district deserve fields to match,” said Kristin Stea, Lauren’s mother, who attended the forum with her husband, Peter, a board member of the East Meadow Parent Athletic Committee.

A petition on Change.org, called “EMPAC and the East Meadow Community for Synthetic Turf for a Multi Use Field at EMHS,” had collected nearly 650 signatures as the Herald went to press.

Nevertheless, board President Matthew Melnick said that there are still members of the community who prefer to keep the grass field at Clarke and proceed with the $600,000 construction of another one at the high school.

“I just want to applaud the Board of Education on their transparency,” said Trustee Jodi Luce, who joined the board this year. “We have taken input from the community, we’re discussing it and will continue to share information with the community.”

Once the board decides on a turf option, it will be presented as an addendum to the bond, and the public will vote whether to accept it, and move forward with turf fields, or refuse it, and stay with grass.

Any unused funds from the bond could also be directed to the cost of the new fields, but that would also have to be put to a vote.

“We want you to know, if any of this were to occur, it is up to the community, not us,” Pizzo said.

At the next board meeting in January, the district plans to examine the pros and cons of each turf option.

Editor's note: A Previous version of this story said that the district is exploring options for turf fields at East Meadow High School and the Leon J. Campo Salisbury Center. However, the district is not replacing the Salisbury Center field. The second field would be an addition at the site of W.T. Clarke high and middle schools.