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Farmingdale School District Breaks Ground on New Turf Field

After receiving three separate grants from the state and public voter approval, the Farmingdale School District has begun to install a new artificial turf field at the high school stadium this week. The cost of the new $800,000 field will be completely covered by state grants obtained by State Senator Kemp Hannon and after completion in early August 2009 will be used by the school’s football, boys and girls soccer, boys and girls lacrosse and track and field teams, as well as the marching band, cheerleading and kickline groups.

“We’re a very large school district and by installing artificial turf on the field, we’ll be able to use it much more than we could when we had grass and soil,” said Assistant Superintendent for Administration Barbara Horsley. “We’re hopeful that the community can use it too. Once the new turf has been installed, we’ll be resurfacing the track, thanks to a grant that Nassau County Legislator Dave Mejias has obtained for us.”

The stadium field’s natural grass turf has been a problem what with the wear and tear of use by the school district’s number of students and teams. “We have over 3,000 children involved in youth sporting activities throughout the year on top of our school athletic teams and physical education classes,” said Farmingdale Athletic Director Jeanne Berkoski. “It’s been difficult to keep grass growing on the field. When it rains and through over-use, the grass gets torn up. I am absolutely in favor of the turf.”

Added Farmingdale’s Assistant Superintendent for Business Paul Defendini, “The old field was very degraded. The turf field can be used a lot more and it will allow us to hold more events.”

The school’s athletic director Berkoski had been asking for a new field. She has worked on the process of obtaining the state grants for about four years with some of the coaching staff.

Berkoski listed a long number of reasons why the artificial turf will be welcomed. “Practice will always take place in any weather anytime,” she said, “Teams will now be able to play where they practice. Injury will be reduced tremendously. Installing the new field will open up many of our practice fields to community groups. We take pride in our outstanding athletic program and the high skill levels that our student athletes play at; they now will have the same opportunity that other schools and student athletes have by having a turf field for their home games. Lastly, many of our athletes go off to colleges on athletic scholarships where those schools have only turf; now our athletes will be used to playing on it.”

Bob Hartranft, head coach of the Farmingdale boys’ lacrosse team, agreed: “We’ve been waiting for a turf field. It is a great surface to play and practice on, even in bad weather. It’s safer too because its soft surface is easier on an athlete’s legs and there are no puddles in a pouring rain. Our team has played many games on turf and it is a faster game; this will help our athletes get ready for college since about 80 percent of the Division 1 teams have turf fields.”

While a July 2008 report from the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission proclaimed that synthetic turf fields are safe to install and play on, turf fields, however, are not without their detractors. Assemblymembers from both New Jersey and New York have proposed bills last year calling on a moratorium on installing artificial turf until further studies on the environmental and public health impacts were conducted. New York Assemblyman Steven Englebright (D- Setauket) stated, “Before we take risks with our children’s health and drinking water quality, we need to make sure that the uncertainties that may be associated with the many artificial turf playing fields and playgrounds that are being installed are fully investigated. Synthetic turf has been found to contain numerous hazardous contaminants, including lead, arsenic, cadmium and chromium, and may not be an appropriate replacement for natural and other materials in all settings.” Since then, Englebright’s bill has been tabled.

Last year more than a dozen artificial turf fields in New York and New Jersey were closed by schools because of high lead levels, above what the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers safe for soil, and state agencies in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut began studies of the environmental and health effects of the turf, according to a Feb. 25, 2009 article in The New York Times. 

Currently all three states permit the installation of artificial turf and a federal commission endorses it, stated the article. Artificial turf fields are made with a porous carpet of plastic grass-shaped blades on top of a cushioned playing surface that is usually made from pulverized recycled tires, called rubber crumb.

The New York Times article also stated that in the last year, when voters in the region have had the chance to weigh in on financing artificial turf, they have overwhelmingly said no. That is a turnaround from earlier years this decade, when hundreds of cities, towns and school districts around the region installed synthetic turf to replace grass fields. Artificial turf fields are more durable than grass fields, dry more quickly and require less maintenance. 

The Farmingdale School District took great measures to ensure that the public had all the information it needed to make an educated decision on the new turf field. 

“We had many community forums to discuss the turf,” said Defendini. “We had different specialists on hand to answer questions. There has been a discussion in Albany about turf fields but all studies have concluded that turf fields are not dangerous. The public voted last November and we’re eager to see the new turf field in place.”