Opponents question if other goals will suffer
The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board is hoping to keep up with the Joneses – or at least its Catholic counterpart – with a proposal to make artificial turf the standard surface on high school sports fields.
Trustees have asked staff to come up with a long-term plan to put fake or high-end grass at secondary school sports fields as well as in small areas of high use at elementary school yards where feasible.
Four Hamilton Catholic high schools already have artificial turf, with Cardinal Newman’s $1.2-million field the latest addition to the club and the new Bishop Ryan set to become the fifth member when it opens its doors later this fall.
The public board plan will seek partnerships, including with the city, to help cover the cost of the new turf, seen as a way of overcoming problems with drainage that can render fields too mucky to play on.
Trustee Judith Bishop, who pushed for the plan, approved by an 8-3 vote, said she expects it will take several years to implement, but the timing is ripe because the board is building two new high schools and will be revitalizing the entire system.
She said some inner-city elementary schools already have artificial turf in small, high-use areas and she can think of at least two others that could benefit from the plan.
“Kids actually can’t play because for large parts of the year it’s mud or water,” the trustee for wards 1 and 2 said.
A “fully supportive” west Mountain trustee Wes Hicks said artificial turf may not always be the solution, but he’d like the board to act as quickly as it can because students often can’t use sports fields in early spring since they’re too wet.
“They don’t get onto the fields sometimes until the first or middle of May,” he said. “We need a plan to either put proper drainage into the existing fields that we have or go to some artificial turf where it’s appropriate.”
But some trustees questioned approving the initiative without more information, including on costs and how it will affect other priorities, like a long-term facilities master plan approved in January that takes a more holistic approach to school renewal.
A recent staff report also showed the board has $628 million in outstanding school repairs that it must try to manage with only $8 million in annual funding from the province.
“It seems to me we’re jumping the gun a slight bit,” Ward 5 trustee Todd White said, suggesting staff first prepare an inventory of capital needs to provide a broader context.
“Let’s see the status of where we are and our finances,” he said. “Then see afterwards, in terms of the information we receive, where we we’d like to go from there.”
But Flamborough trustee Karen Turkstra said the plan can be integrated with both the facilities master plan and the school-repair list to allow money to be spent where it’s most beneficial.
“Our goal, definitely, is to upgrade our schools so that we have no schools who are left in a poor condition. Well, for me, that would include our fields and our play areas,” she said.
“There’s no point in the inside being nice when the outside is discreditable to the school board.”