District to Vote on Natural Grass Field

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Officials in the Sag Harbor school district are hoping to broker a detente in the community's turf wars.

For the third time in four years, voters will decide on renovating the athletic field at Pierson Middle/High School. Voting is Wednesday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the high school gym.

Even though residents had approved a $1.62 million bond for a synthetic turf field in 2013, voters rejected that plan in another referendum held two months ago, when the public was asked to support more spending on the work.

The district has since scratched the more recent proposal in favor of natural grass fields. Voters must approve reallocating the money for the grass fields in a referendum scheduled for Wednesday. The State Legislature has authorized the district to divert the funds for another purpose.

The move to synthetic turf in schools has been a divisive issue in recent years as environmentalists point to associated health and safety risks.

"Here's a small community that said 'Not in our town,' " Superintendent Katy Graves said in a recent interview.

Last year, the lowest bid for work on the project was $500,000 greater than what officials had budgeted. Then the district offered a smaller plan, removing some of the proposed work, and asked voters to approve taking $365,000 to cover the new costs from its Capital Reserve Fund. The proposal was defeated, 1,016-135.

The original vote in fall 2013 seeking authorization for the bond issue was approved, 585-507.

Graves said people on opposing sides have actively weighed in.

Some "wanted it because we have a very small footprint" and hoped to see increased use of the athletic facilities. Others said, "We don't feel like we can trust turf," she said.

The district's proposal also calls for a multiuse practice field at Sag Harbor Elementary School.

Susan Lamontagne, a school board member since July who ran in opposition to the synthetic turf fields, said, "I'm really glad that it was delayed and we were able to do the right thing."

She added, "Kids will have these fabulous, natural grass fields to play on."

April Gornik, an artist and activist who lives in Sag Harbor, said she, too, had environmental concerns about the material.

"Sag Harbor has for a long time been a very united community, not always in terms of opinion, but in terms of information-sharing," said Gornik, who is on vacation and submitted an absentee ballot earlier in the month.

"It will all come to closure, come Wednesday," Graves said. "Our community has to go out and say yes."

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February 15, 2017


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