Turf on the town table

Fund Board to decide about Gardner Field request

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— Artificial turf is the only item on tonight's agenda for a special meeting of the Steamboat Springs Education Fund Board.

The Fund Board is expected to discuss and possibly vote on a $250,000 request to install artificial turf at Steamboat Springs High School's Gardner Field. The new field would cost about $500,000, half of which would be raised through private donors such as parents and other community members.

Supporters of the turf field say Steamboat's weather renders the field unusable for much of the year. That forces student-athletes to travel excessively, miss classes and lose the benefit of home games. Lacrosse, baseball and soccer players practice in the school gymnasium, often at late hours.

Citing a need for quick action to get an artificial field in place for the fall, supporters have moved the proposal unusually fast through the Fund Board process. Steamboat Springs School District Superintendent Donna Howell placed artificial turf on the agenda for an April meeting of the Fund Board's Capital Commission, which approved the item and sent it to the full board May 3.

When supporters at that meeting attempted to approve the funding in one night -- a process that usually takes at least two separate, monthly meetings -- some members of the Fund Board expressed concerns.

"I'd like to let the community have more time to discuss this," Fund Board Vice President Jerry Kozatch said, citing the common practice of two readings for a Fund Board proposal before action is taken and at least two opportunities for public comment.

Fund Board members Michael Loomis and Keri Rusthoi questioned the large amount of money to be spent on an athletic field, especially given a recent $950,000 allocation for an addition to Steamboat Springs Middle School and, Rusthoi said, a lack of funding for other extracurricular activities such as music and drama programs.

"We're putting an awful lot of money into athletics," Rusthoi said.

High school Principal Mike Knezevich called his support of the proposal "100 percent academic," citing studies that correlate athletic participation to improved grades in school.

Knezevich said some student-athletes plan to speak at tonight's meeting, at which he will provide Fund Board members with information about how artificial turf would reduce injuries, improve academics and provide a variety of uses.

City Council President Ken Brenner said those uses could involve the city. The track around Gardner Field, Brenner said Wednesday, was built partly with $170,000 from Great Outdoors Colorado. That grant had stipulations guaranteeing community access to the track.

School district Facilities Director Rick Denney will present information about potential maintenance costs for an artificial field. The district currently spends less than $20,000 a year to maintain the grass field, he aid.

That number varies widely, Denney added, depending on the weather and how often the field is used during a season.

If the Fund Board approves the artificial turf proposal tonight, they will submit the money as a gift to the School Board, which will make the final decision about the proposal.

The Fund Board allocates revenues from a citywide, voter-approved half-cent sales tax. The board already has approved more than $3 million in 2006-07 expenditures for district schools.

-- To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203

or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

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