Students in the Coweta County School System will walk on grass to graduate in their school stadiums this spring, but football teams will compete on artificial turf in those same stadiums in the fall.
The Coweta County Board of Education voted Tuesday to move ahead with the long-awaited installation of artificial turf at East Coweta’s Shoemake Stadium, Newnan High School’s Drake Stadium and Northgate High School’s Henry Seldon Field as soon as graduation is over.
The total cost of the project is estimated at just under $5.4 million, which will include track renovations and necessary modifications to accommodate the artificial turf at each stadium.
Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds were set aside for the project, and board members – along with a school system committee appointed specifically to research and advise the board on the project – spent more than two years monitoring research data about the potential health risks of the crumb rubber infill commonly used in artificial turf.
The board voted in January to move ahead with soliciting bids for the project.
Another delay came during Tuesday’s meeting when board member Linda Menk questioned the cost breakdown presented by representatives of Southern A&E, LLC, the architectural firm charged with creating the specifications for the project.
Reading from personal notes, Menk read a list of payouts for artificial turf installation at other Georgia high schools, saying the proposal before the board contained higher than average estimates.
She suggested postponing the project to look for ways to drive down the cost.
Southern A&E’s Ken Pritchard went over base costs solely for turf fields at each of of the Coweta County Schools, which he said were in line with the payouts quoted by Menk.
Pritchard explained that costs vary from site to site according to modifications needed to prepare surfaces and facilities for artificial turf, especially when working within an extremely short period of time for completion – as is the case in Coweta.
“I’d rather come and stand in front of you in August and tell you that we don’t have an elementary school ready to open than to tell you your football field is not going to be ready for the home opener,” Pritchard said.
Menk suggested delaying the project could save money by allowing the school system to guarantee work to contractors months in advance in exchange for a cheaper price.
“It just appears to me that we’re paying through the nose for this, and perhaps we should delay the project,” said Menk, who also expressed her lack of faith in manufacturer Field Turf, citing complaints and class-action lawsuits filed against the company and research/testing ratings she said indicated a higher possibility of injury to athletes on fields utilizing Field Turf products.
Board chairman Larry Robertson said a delay will not extend the amount of time available to complete the large-scale undertaking, which must be done during a summer break.
“If we push this project back, we’ll have no more time than we have now,” Robertson told Menk.
And Pritchett said the number of contractors with the ability to install artificial turf is limited, unlike general contracting.
“I want everybody to understand that when you’re doing a field, this is not like doing a building,” he said. “This contractor that’s going to do these fields and these tracks doesn’t have 20 or 30 subs that are going to be working for him. He’s going to have a crew of about 12 to 14, and from the day that job starts until the day that job finishes, you’re going to see those same guys out there working. This is a very specific task we’re asking them to do. It’s specialty work installing a synthetic field so there are not a lot of people out there in this industry with a lot of expertise on installing this.”
The board moved ahead with a motion and a second, and Menk revisited a possible delay of the turf project during the discussion phase. She said the board’s vote last month to add 14 school resource officers didn’t include a definitive source of funding.
“I just wish we could delay this,” she said. “When we added $1.2 million to the budget last month, we didn’t discuss where we could pick up some cost savings. We just added another ($1.2 million) to the budget. I like the idea of artificial turf, I just don’t think we need to do it right now. That’s all I’m saying.”
Board member Frank Farmer responded by saying he has “the utmost confidence” in the professionals from Southern A&E and the school system’s committee to study artificial turf.
“I trust their research a lot more than I trust Ms. Menk’s,” Farmer said.
“And I also question how long you’ve had this,” he said to Menk. “You haven’t shared it with me, and I don’t know if you’ve shared it with any other board member, or any other staff member, until you just bring it up here tonight and start throwing numbers around.”
Board members voted 6-1 to approve the proposal submitted by Deluxe Athletics, with Menk opposed.
In other action, the board:
• Approved a proposal from Willis Road Elementary school’s PTO to purchase an LED message display sign for the school.
• Approved a guaranteed maximum price of just under $3.5 million to install air conditioning in gyms at the three high schools.
• Approved Torrance Construction Company as construction manager at risk for security upgrades at elementary and middle schools.
• Approved field trips for Newnan High School’s drama department, Northgate High School’s JROTC program and Smokey Road Middle School’s chorus.