This evening I went to a digital safety presentation by a youth resource police officer sponsored by our local PTO. Most of what he said was fairly valid, but the way he said it was questionable in my mind.
First, it was very much of a digital immigrant telling other digital immigrants how their digital native children should act online. He admitted that he just didn't get why people talk about food or share their location online. In my mind, this made him less credible.
More importantly, his talk sounded like he was asking the parents to limit or curtail their children's online activity. To a certain extent this makes sense. We don't want kids to do things online that could end up hurting them. He spoke about making sure that kids didn't grow up with negative digital footprint.
I suggested that he might want to look at things from the other side. How do we encourage our digital native kids to have a positive digital footprint? How do we help these digital natives develop a good digital portfolio and a strong personal digital brand?
These are the questions we should be grappling with.
Today, 1,803 voters in Bethany, Orange and Woodbridge went to the polls and rejected a referendum to spend $945,000 installing astroturf at Amity High School. While the turnout was very low by normal election standards, for an off-season referendum, the numbers were higher than many expected.
Based on the chatter around various water coolers, it seems like it boiled down to the fiscal conservatives and the environmental conservatives against the sports parents, with many people not having an opinion, and voting based on the recommendations of their friends.
The environmental conservatives were probably the loudest with comments against the proposal on the Conserve Woodbridge Facebook page, and presumably in backchannels. They expressed concern about fumes and runoff from the artificial turf. The fiscal conservatives spoke up at meetings raising concern about the towns' debt burdens.
This time, I decided to try an exit poll, which I set up using Google Documents. I put it together very quickly before heading off to work, so there were some mistakes in it. It wasn't clear to everyone that while I optionally gathered demographic information, there was no way for me to get any other information about the people filling out the poll.
A handful of people completed the poll, the results were 2 to 1 against the referendum in the exit poll and about the same 64% to 36% in the actual voting. For concerns express, the biggest concern appears to have been the cost, followed by health issues, and environmental issues.
At the Woodbridge polling location just a few people showed up to find the results, and the biggest concern appears to have been about the lack of information that was distributed about the referendum and who should have distributed it.
The Amity AstroTurf Referendum is today, and I've set up a simple, unscientific exit poll using Google Docs. If you live in Bethany, Woodbridge, or Orange, please consider filling out this poll
If I get enough responses, I'll post about the results here or in a later blog post.
Update: One person asked about the anonymity of this poll. It was set up using Google Docs. You do not have to be logged into Google Docs to fill out the poll. It does track the time you filled it out, and your answer to the questions, but it does not track any other information besides the questions you answer.
We've already had answers from all three towns.
On Tuesday, voters from Bethany, Woodbridge, and Orange will go to the polls to vote on a referendum about installing astroturf at Amity Regional High School. There has been a bit if discussion about the issue on various social media sites, but no good comprehensive examination of the subject that I've been able to find.
So, I've been gathering information from various sources which I will try to present here.
Two links have been posted on the Conserve Woodbridge Facebook page:
The first article appears to be a fairly balanced view of the topic. It lists advantages as lower, maintenance costs, pesticide free, increased playability, fewer injuries and saves water. For the cons, it talks about a heat hazard, lead, zinc and other harmful chemicals, increased MRSA risk, bacterial breeding ground, adverse affect on asthmatics and once artificial, always artificial.
Unfortunately, the article doesn't provide links to support its claims, and there is plenty of material to contradict various claims. For example, the New York State Department of Health has a Fact Sheet: Crumb-Rubber Infilled Synthetic Turf Athletic Fields
While injury studies have not consistently identified differences in abrasion and laceration risks between natural and infilled synthetic turf, some types of synthetic turf may result in more skin abrasions. Although very few tests have been performed, the available data do not suggest the widespread presence of infectious agents, such as MRSA, on synthetic turf fields. Also, the available information indicates that outdoor or indoor synthetic turf surfaces are no more likely to harbor infectious agents than other surfaces in those same environments. Disease outbreak investigations conducted in response to illnesses caused by a variety of germs (e.g., MRSA, Campylobacter, meningococcus, echovirus, herpes simplex virus, hepatitis virus, coxsackie virus) have not identified playing fields, either natural or synthetic, as likely to increase the risk of transmitting infections.
Another valuable resource is the The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection's Risk Assessment of Artificial Turf Fields.
The second article is written by a turfgrass producer and is far from unbiased. Yet even this article contradicts the first article:
Teams that once had artificial grass, like the Reds, Phillies, Pirates, Cardinals and Mariners, have chosen natural grass when updating their fields.
Over on the Woodbridge - Bethany Residents Forum there has been a lengthy discussion. I highlighted a few different articles, such as NH Register 5/19/2013: Amity considers artificial turf for field and Orange Live 8/24/2012 - A Letter From The Amity Turf Committee. Allison Rossi also shared a link to Group seeks $700,000 for turf football field at Amity High School, and to Bethwood Patch 1/10/2012: Turf Wars Avoided at Amity and Ed Walsh shared, NH Register 1/13/2012: Amity dads hope to raise $1M for artificial turf field
There are a few key things that come out of this. There had been an effort to raise private funds which appears not to have been successful, and the price has fluctuated between $700,000 and $1 million.
There has also been considerable discussion at various town meetings. Summaries of these discussions can be found in minutes of various board meetings.
Fundraising for a turf field has been done by a committee of dedicated volunteers and so far $2,000 has been raised. Another route to getting the turf field could be to bond it. We could present the idea to the people of the three communities and see if they would support spending $900,000 for this. With a brand new turf field, you can deduct approximately $20,000 per year for field maintenance. If a situation arose where it snowed, the field could be plowed.
It starts off with
Mr. Mengold recapped the history of discussion around an artificial turf field, beginning in 2004 with a proposal to the Board. He reviewed debunked reports on harmful effects of such fields (carcinogenic materials, increased injuries, etc.) and how the state Attorney General’s moratorium on installing artificial turf was later lifted. He went over the wet conditions of the current grass field, how heavy use by both Amity and community youth football games damaged the field and led to more athletic injuries.
Most other sports teams play on synthetic turf fields at other schools; in Amity’s DRG only one other school does not have a synthetic turf field.
The public hearing was followed by a special meeting, Amity Regional School District No. 5 Special Meeting Board of Education May 21, 2013 where the board approved
APPROPRIATION OF $945,000 AND AUTHORIZATION OF BONDS AND TEMPORARY NOTES IN THE SAME AMOUNT FOR REPLACEMENT OF THE CURRENT NATURAL GRASS FIELD AT THE AMITY REGIONAL HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETIC STADIUM WITH AN ARTIFICIAL TURF FIELD
The board then approved a referendum on the bonds:
SHALL REGIONAL SCHOOL DISTRICT NUMBER 5 APPROPRIATE $945,000 AND AUTHORIZE BONDS AND TEMPORARY NOTES IN THE SAME AMOUNT FOR REPLACEMENT OF THE CURRENT NATURAL GRASS FIELD AT THE AMITY REGIONAL HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETIC STADIUM WITH AN ARTIFICIAL TURF FIELD?
I've also spoken with elected officials of neighboring towns, who have spoken positively of their experiences installing astroturf at their high schools.
Based on all of this, it seems to me that there is not compelling evidence of significant negative environmental or health risks to moving astroturf. In terms of the most basic cost benefit analysis, it appears as if the fields would cost $20,000 a year less to maintain, but that would take close to fifty years to cover the cost of the installation.
There have been discussions about special shoes necessary for playing on astroturf, but it is not such that the fields couldn't be used for other sports and given that our teams play away games at schools with astroturf, I suspect the shoes necessary for playing on astroturf are already available.
So, is the cost of installing astroturf worth it in terms of additional field use, or other benefits? I haven't seen a strong argument for that either.
In terms of private funding, I would love to see people from the community step up to help cover some of the cost, but I worry about this leading towards a slippery slope. What school activities should be publicly funded? Which ones should be privately funded? Should we look for private funding to make upgrades to science laboratories?
While I have yet to find compelling reasons for, or against the astroturf, I hope this will help others be better informed about the issue, make their own decisions, and show up at the voting booth on Tuesday.
Friday afternoon around 150 people gathered in the Center Gym at Woodbridge to celebrate the swearing in of newly elected and appointed members of various boards and commissions in town. These are people who give of their time to work together with their friends and neighbors in Woodbridge to help make our town a better place.
Just a few days earlier, the incoming Board of Selectmen gathered to vote on appointments to there boards and commissions. Due to family logistics, I watched the proceedings from home on Channel 79. As a member of the Government Access Television Commission, I was disappointed with the sound quality of the broadcast, but I could hear enough to make the following observation.
Selectman Joseph Dey expressed concerns about how the process was being handled. He talked about how he wanted more information about the people he would be voting on. It is a laudable request that he failed move forward with.
I am fairly involved in town politics, but I suspect that I know less than half the appointees and I would have loved to hear more information about these people who volunteer to serve our town. If Selectman Dey had been truly concerned about who was being appointed to the various boards and commissions, before each vote, when First Selectman Ellen Scalettar asked if there was any discussion, Selectman Dey could have said something like, "I don't believe I know Neelam Gupta. Why do you think Neelam would be a good member of the Economic Development Commission?"
I must admit, I'm not sure if I know who Neelam is and would have appreciated hearing the answer. I'm sure it would have been informative, and I suspect I would have ended up thinking Neelam would be a good commissioner.
Instead, Selectman Dey abstained on just about every vote, winning him the nickname among some local political pundits of Joey the Abstainer. One person commented on Facebook that they were "surprised that he was unaware of some of the bigger names at the Town Hall. For example, Terry Gilbertson is a fixture and was an easy vote to NOT abstain from." The response was, "perhaps Selectman Dey represents those in town who chose not to know who their neighbors are or what is going on in town".
Instead, Selectman Dey may have been trying to make a point about his inability to work constructively with other elected officials. He may have been seeking to place the blame on the other elected officials, but in the end, it appeared that he was the problem. I hope, for the sake of the town, he learns how to work better with others as his term progresses.
Now some of you may raise the concern that asking questions about the nominees would have made the meeting much longer. That too, is a valid concern, but personally, I would have liked a longer meeting hearing great things about my friends and neighbors that volunteer to help in our community. Hopefully, we will get other chances for this.