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.
The week started off with a trip to Boston for the launch of my middle daughter's book, Don't Make Art, Just Make Something.
Have you ever noticed that
whenever someone does
something particularly well,
we call it art?
The thing is, if we're always
trying to make art, we miss
out on everything else we
It was the final week of the General Assembly up in Hartford, which passed AN ACT CONCERNING DISSECTION CHOICE.
A local or regional school district shall excuse any student from participating in, or observing, the dissection of any animal as part of classroom instruction, provided the parent or guardian of such student has requested, in writing, that such student be excused from such participation or observation.
It was also Artweek at Beecher Road School, where my youngest daughter is a student. Recently, they took a trip to the Yale Center for British Art, where they saw George Stubbs painting, "A Lion Attacking a Horse". To a young girl who loves horseback riding and who has recently given up eating meat due to her love of animals, it was a disturbing painting.
Even more disturbing was when she was told to reproduce the painting in art class. She didn't want to reproduce violence and because of the subject matter, she asked if she could do a different painting. When she was told no, she did her own version where the lion was lying down with the horse. It was rejected by the art teacher. Perhaps, as Isaiah 11:6 says, a child shall lead them.
The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.
Fiona related this to us over dinner this evening. I suggested that she should ask to reproduce paintings from de Kooning's Women series instead, but didn't go into details. I also introduced her to the song, "Flowers are Red" by Harry Chapin.
It will be interesting to see what directions her artistic express takes.
It is a beautiful spring evening. The dog lies contentedly on the front lawn, underneath an American flag hanging limply in the still air. I glance briefly at the pictures hanging on the wall of last summer's vacation to Cape Cod. Beneath the picture of Fiona on the bow of a whale watching ship is one of her school projects. On a shelf nearby are stones from the trip together with seashore themed knick knacks my mother had collected.
On a table next to me are call sheets from yesterday's election and at the end of the driveway, the sign urging voters to support Ellen Scalettar for First Selectman remains, having completed its mission.
Fiona is at her grandparents house this evening and Kim is on her way down to a memorial service for Bob Edgar, the head of Common Cause, where she works, who passed away unexpectedly, the same evening that our late First Selectman died.
It has been a busy, chaotic couple of weeks. There hasn't been time to think or struggle with difficult feelings around death.
Last night, some people rejoiced, while others were disappointed about the election results. Yes, I got elected as alternate to the Zoning Board of Appeals. It wasn't an office I had particularly sought, but one that sought me. I was asked to run to fill a slot on the ticket and I believe it is important to have full slates of candidates and competitive races. Zoning is an important part of the social contract, so it is another responsibility to have taken on.
I did learn something interesting, however. My wife's grandfather held the same position years ago. I hope that I'll live up to his standards on the ZBA.
So now, I sit quietly in an empty house taking it all in. I imagine others may be sitting in empty homes as well as their feelings get a chance to catch up. My thoughts go out to everyone for whom these past couple weeks have been so challenging.
Finally, I have a chance to write, and then to rest, before the next task comes along.
The sky was not as grey on Wednesday as it was on Tuesday. There were patches of blue overhead, but still the horizon was layers of grey, like a Rothko painting of a gray British flannel suit. I don't remember much more of that day, I was still in shock.
Thursday, I got up and made my oatmeal and raisins. I put the water on to boil for coffee and sat down to check my email and social media. There are rituals in our lives that carry meaning. The orange in the stocking at Christmas, the five kernels of corn at Thanksgiving. They remind us of past hardships and present pleasant times. There are other rituals that may have started just as habit, or as conscious choices to improve our health, but become part of what sustains us through trying times. My morning oatmeal is like that. I got up and went about my life in a normal way, even though the normal has been rent in two.
In the evening, I rushed to the Democratic Town Committee headquarters. There were two important tasks to be tackled. The first was to come together and share our grief about the death of our First Selectman, Ed Sheehy. There were many red eyes and warm hugs. The second task was to nominate a candidate to fill Ed's place on the ballot.
People spoke in shaking voices lauding Ed and seeking to find ways to honor him and do what he would want us to do. Ellen Scalettar was nominated to be our new candidate, a long time friend of Woodbridge, and a long time friend of Ed.
Ed was a brilliant man, a great leader, the sort of First Selectman few municipalities are fortunate enough to have. Yet Ellen is cut of a similar cloth and is also great candidate. The fact that she was our State Representative for many years, and ran for statewide office also helps, with just over a week until the election.
The next stop was Town Hall, where there was a special meeting of the Board of Selectmen. The chair in the middle, normally occupied by Ed, was empty. There was a moment of silence. The selectman appointed current Selectman Beth Heller, to be finish out the rest of Ed's term.
There was a chance for people to speak about their memories of Ed. As I listened, I thought of the final episode of MASH. Something great was coming to an end, and we were all gathered to be part of it. Yet if there was a television show to capture Woodbridge during the Sheehy years, perhaps Mayberry RFD would be better.
These days fewer people remember Mayberry RFD. It went off the air the year that my family got its first television, but I remember watching old episodes. Probably even less remember the days of Rural Free Delivery. The show was a video portrayal of an idyllic small town, previously captured by Norman Rockwell, and later tapped into with Ronald Reagan's Morning in America advertisement.
Norman Rockwell, Andy Griffith, and Ronald Reagan captured the sort of town that we moved into about the same time that Ed became our First Selectman. Yes, there were the odd experiences and mad cap adventures of a small closely knit town that made both Mayberry and Woodbridge endearing; the drama over where to put a new ball field, the efforts to save a country club, the conflict around the BBQ pit at the firehouse, the issues around animal control, and there was the wise old Ed Sheehy, like Andy Griffith, calmly working us towards fair solutions.
Friday, there was the wake. Many of us stood for an hour or more to honor Ed and comfort his family and one another. From the wake, I rushed off to the pot luck dinner at the local school. Fiona was in the Multi Age Group program, which some say boasts the best pot luck dinners in town.
Saturday was the funeral; the local Catholic church packed to the gills, the antique firetruck, carrying the coffin, only to break down, perhaps providing one last twist on a very special show.
Now, it is Sunday morning. I return to family issues which I seek to balance with my work commitments and with the final week of the municipal campaign.
To all my friends: stay involved. Let's make Woodbridge RFD, the sequel to The Ed Sheehy show, just as special.