Tonight there will be a special presentation by Middletown Township Administrator Tony Mercantante, to the Middletown Board of Education that will outline a plan to have artificial turf fields installed at the campuses of two township middle schools believed to be Thorne and Thompson. The meeting will be held in the auditorium of Middletown High School North. This plan is expected to be controversial so the public is strongly encouraged to attend the 6:30 pm presentation.
I’ve thought about this idea since I heard about it late last week, it is not necessarily a bad idea. If done right it would benefit both the school system and the township. The BOE has the expertise in managing and maintaining artificial turf fields already with the athletic fields installed at both high schools and if a mutually acceptable partnership could be worked out then the township gains by being able fulfill a goal of its Parks & Recreation Master Plan.
The P&R Master Plan recommended that the township consider the installation of 2-3 artificial turf fields to go along with the two high school fields if the differences between the BOE and the township could be worked out. By doing so, it would allow the use of the high school fields by the various sports leagues in town and the need for further fields in town would be negated.
Could the Town and the BOE work out such differences? It would be quite an achievement if they could. There are many questions that need to be answered like, who would be responsible for maintaining the fields? What about insurance liabilities? Who would be responsible for supervising or policing them during off hours? Who gets preference of use, the school system or sports leagues? Who replaces the carpet when it wears out in 10 years do to over use? What about lighting, concessions, locker rooms and bathroom facilities? All of these questions and more need to be answered before this project can move forward.
Why not spend that money, which is burning such a hole in the township’s pockets on maintaining or improving the currents natural turf fields, or building new ones around town? Over a 20 year period the costs of a natural turf filed is less then that of an artificial turf field.
What makes the artificial fields more desirable is the fact that you can hold more events on them because of the superior drainage and surface, so the additional costs are justified by the number of additional games that can be played on them.
The lingering question in my mind however remains whether or not the township can afford to spend the $2-3 million needed for these fields in a time of economic uncertainty for the township. The township budget has a shortfall of $2.4 million dollars and we are looking at a 9.2% tax increase to make up the difference, to me the installation of any athletic field is a luxury not a necessity at this time.