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Stoughton High School’s Collins Field, as seen in this 2011 file photo, would get artificial turf if the school district can make use of a donation pledged by the Wahlin Foundation.

If the community can raise some big bucks by July, Stoughton High School’s Collins Field might be sporting an artificial turf field by next summer.

That’s where things stand after the board approved spending up to $250,000 from its long-term capital improvements fund to install the new turf field, with around $350,000 in donations still needed to pay the estimated $1.1 million cost.

Over the holiday break, Stoughton Trailers announced it would supplement an initial $150,000 in “seed money” gift it offered in 2019 by matching donations up to another $350,000 for the project. It stipulated that the initial money be put toward use of the field by June 30, 2022, however, providing some urgency to the last few months.

District business manager Erica Pickett said if the community can help fund the remaining $350,000 by this July, the district would start the process of “looking at installation in the summer of 2022.”

“(That’s) ample time to make sure we do our due diligence and find a good vendor, get a good product,” she said.

While the vote was unanimous (8-0, with Allison Sorg absent), board members had several concerns about how the use of money from the district’s Fund 46, used for long-term improvements, could affect other projects the district wants to complete in the next few years.

Steve Jackson said he expects the district will need to go to a referendum for future capital projects if it has $250,000 less to spend because of the turf.

“(It’s not) as if we’re very, very flush and we should be able to afford $250,000 without any problems,” he said. “So the things that we had identified in our 10-year plan will probably still get done, but we’ll be going to referendum, and I hope that the community supports all the other things that we’ve identified in our facilities and 10-year plan.”

Noting the outpouring of support from the community, Mia Croyle echoed those comments.

“I’ve been very impressed with the organization and the passion that we heard from our sports booster, and I hope we can trust them to carry water for the district with that same level of dedication and organziation when we do have to go to referendum for other facilities,” she said.

Croyle was one of several board members who expressed reservations about an eventual replacement cost to the field – estimated to last 12-15 years – and leaving that bill for a future school board to finance.

“I’m concerned, doing due diligence, that we’re not accepting a white elephant-type gift that is going to put the district seven to 15 years down the road in a very difficult financial position,” she said. “Our current projection is that our enrollment is going to continue to go down. There may be a future district that wishes we haven’t made that decision, because they don’t have a way to pay to replace it.”

Athletic director Mel Dow said every vendor district officials have spoken to say a replacement field would cost half as much or less than a new field, with much of the initial cost going to sub-groundwork that would not need to be redone. District building and grounds supervisor Luke Butz estimated that a synthetic turf field costs 25% or less for staff to maintain.

“The lines don’t need to be redone, we’re not constantly spending time on re-seeding and aerating,” he said. “We’re saving hundreds of labor hours that can be spent in our areas of our district.”

In terms of budgeting for a future replacement, Pickett said the distinct regularly incorporates long-term saving into other projects such as resurfacing the track or tennis courts.

“If that means there are some savings in our maintenance budget we tuck aside on an annual basis, we would look at different strategies for that to plan over the next 10-15 years for a replacement,” she said.

Tim Bubon cited a “tremendous amount of support” in the community.

“We’re getting a $1.1 million project for up to $250,000, and I think something that’s going to open up other revenue options and … expand opportunities for our students,” he said. “It’s very much in line with our strategic priorities. You look at the importance of community engagement, there’s probably no better example I’ve seen of that since I’ve been in the district as what we’re seeing with this, with lots of people coming together.”

Jill Patterson said since the current grass field at SHS has drainage issues that make it usable only for the football team, an artificial turf field would be used by more students.

“This would open up a huge amount of opportunities for all our students beyond football,” she said. “It is an equity issue at this point, and to make things more equitable, we would need to install artificial turf.”

To that point, Jackson said, he hoped the field would be wide enough to accommodate a soccer field.

Board president Frank Sullivan said based on research provided, a good turf field could also decrease the risk to injury for students.

“We have the opportunity to acquire something close to a state of the art turf field or a cost to the taxpayers that’s substantially less than we would pay for it normally,” he said.

Email Unified Newspaper Group reporter Scott De Laruelle at scott.delaruelle@wcinet.com.

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