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The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colorado)
Frank and Sandy Rakoczy gaze out their window and sigh. A tall chain-link fence topped with barbed wire stares back.
"It's not an attractive-looking thing," Nancy says, shaking her head.
Workers from Performance Recreation in Pueblo have removed the sod from the athletic field at Eagleview Middle School in Rockrimmon, as they prepare the ground for artificial turf.
It's the new status quo for schools in Academy School District 20.
For the Rakoczys and others who live near the school, it's theof a neighborhood era.
"The big concern is the restriction to the neighbors," Frank says. "We're used to having it open. And now, with school letting out for the summer, it's going to be locked up."
Since Eagleview opened in 1986, the grassy expanse with a picturesque view of Pikes Peak has been like a second home for area families. Kids have flown kites and had their birthday parties there. Fathers and sons have tossed footballs. Mothers and daughters have jogged around the track, while babies in strollers slept nearby.
This is the fifth D-20 athletic field to be replaced with synthetic turf, "a small dent" toward a long-term goal of replacing all 30 fields, said Mark Bissell, executive director for facilities at District 20.
The switch is designed to conserve water, save money and improve the condition of the playing surface for sports.
Grass fields cost more to maintain, with watering and continuously painting lines, Bissell said. "A large part of our water bill goes to irrigation," he said. "And with drought and recent severe weather patterns, it's hard to keep the fields in a consistent condition."
The plan started in 2006-2007, when the stadium at Liberty High School and the athletic field at Pine Creek High School were converted at a cost of $600,000 to $700,000 each, Bissell said. Leftover bond money paid for those.
Rampart High School, which has a smaller field, followed at a cost of $300,000.
Timberview Middle School's field was completed last year, and the Eagleview project will be finished June 30, Bissell said.
The middle schools are running $400,000 to $500,000 apiece. Money is coming from the district's capital projects fund, he said, with partial state funding for the crumb rubber material used at Eagleview.
Other changes accompany the fake turf. Instead of the fields being accessible to all, fences around the perimeters restrict public use.
Fencing has been used at other D-20 venues, but the Eagleview neighbors are the first ones to complain about it.
"We decided it was such a large investment, we need to do a few things to protect the investment, which is why we make sure we secure the premises," Bissell said.
The public can attend athletic games and other events on the fields but can no longer run around the track or play catch when it's not being used by students.
"The public can be there at the events and still watch kids play. It's just not unfettered use like it was before," Bissell said.
To further protect the artificial grounds, drinks and food are not allowed, with the exception of water.
"You can spill Coke on an organic sod field and it dissipates into the soil, but you have to be really careful on synthetic turf to extend the life cycle," Bissell said.
The tight policy has paid off. Bissell said the district was told the lifespan of the new artificial fields would be six to eight years, but the ones at Liberty and Pine Creek, now in their eighth year, "look like new," he said.
Charles Evans, who has lived in the Eagleview neighborhood for 11 years, also is upset about the change.
"It's kind of disheartening because we pay the school taxes so why can't we utilize the school grounds when they're not in use?" he said. "It's a nice flat area that's great to play on."
The district has had problems at some fields, Bissell said, with dog doo causing unsanitary conditions, and misuse, such as golfing and javelin throwing.
The Rakoczys say they've never seen the field at Eagleview abused, with most people obeying "no dogs" signs.
"People were pretty good about not taking their dogs or biking on the field," said Frank Rakoczy, who has lived in the neighborhood 18 years. "And we've never seen it vandalized."
As to neighbors' complaints about the field's restricted access, Bissell points to Ute Valley Park, a city-owned park that's adjacent to Eagleview.
"We build schools for the intended purpose of educating kids, and Park and Rec builds parks and fields for the public," he said. "In the case of Eagleview, there are park trails for jogging and dog walking within 200 yards of our field."
To that Nancy Rakoczy replies, "A lot of women don't like walking by themselves in the park but they'll walk on a field."
Evans said the hiking trails are hilly and the flat field suits some people better.
"I can understand that they don't want people bringing their dogs or golfing, but I think if they listed the restrictions, people would respect that. If not, there could be fines," he said. "I don't think running around the track or flying a remote control plane or a kite would cause damage."
With the exception of the Liberty stadium, the public can rent school fields, Bissell said, and schools are allowed to give permission to individuals at times to use the fields when they aren't being used for educational purposes.
Not the same, neighbors near Eagleview say.
"We're the ones paying for it," Evans says. "They shouldn't close it off like that."
As to which school is next on the list for turf replacement, Bissell said, "None, and it is undetermined when any more will be added."