School board debates synthetic turf at parish high schools

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Airline took on Captain Shreve last week. Airline High School is one of the stadiums that would receive a synthetic turf upgrade if the school board agrees to install them at local high schools in Bossier Parish.
Amanda Simmons
amanda@bossierpress.com

To turf, or not to turf? That’s the question members of the Bossier Parish School Board’s building and grounds committee is seeking the answer to.

The committee recently introduced the idea of installing artificial turf at five of the six high schools. One reason is because the Lion’s Club annual football jamboree was canceled due to poor weather and field conditions, resulting in a loss of revenue.

The committee voted to move forward with seeking quotes for installing turf at Airline, Benton, Bossier Haughton and Parkway.
Keith Norwood, Supervisor of Planning and Construction for Bossier Schools, reported back to the committee Sept. 27 with a two page summary of information gathered between meetings.

Norwood contacted DeSoto Parish schools and learned they were “overall pleased” with their turf installations. They packaged three astro turf fields with polyurethane tracks and eight year service contracts for just under $4.7 million.

According to Norwood’s report, the minimum the board can expect for an artificial turf field is about $850,000 each. That price would either increase or decrease depending on site conditions.

Shane Cheatham, District 11 representative and committee member, asked if there would be a discount for packaging five fields. Norwood said discussions didn’t go that far, but said that normally a better deal is given when packaging multiple items.
District 4 representative Bill Lott was unclear as to why the committee was only talking about five fields.

“I missed the last board meeting, but Mr. Cheatham is asking about three fields versus five and I just wanted to remind him you have six high schools in Bossier Parish,” Lott said. “I don’t know where five came from.”
Cheatham chimed in and said he would be happy to answer Lott’s question.

“I made the motion for five fields strictly based off of…”
Lott interrupted and asked which school would be left out.

Cheatham responded, “Plain Dealing High School.”

“One of the reasons I made the motion that we get turf fields,” Cheatham said, “is because I believe that we’ve had several issues and had to cancel events at our schools. We had to cancel the Lion’s Club Jamboree and spirit nights. When it comes down to it, to spend $850,000 to $1 million, our schools that have band, lacrosse, soccer, softball and all of these groups that are going to use it, it makes sense to spend that money because it will be used every night of the week.”

Cheatham continued: “Plain Dealing doesn’t have the marching band. They don’t have soccer or lacrosse. Therefore, if we’re being smart with our money, it’s probably not a great idea to spend $850,000 to $1 million to put turf in the stadium at Plain Dealing.”

His response didn’t sit well with Lott, though.

“My point is, once again, that we have one school in our parish that is not included with the rest of the parish,” Lott said. “I’m not sure that I’m in favor of astro turfing our football fields to begin with, but if we are going to do that I think it should be done for the whole parish and not leave out those who have less than the rest of the parish.”

Sandra “Samm” Darby, District 10 representative and school board president, agreed that their decision needs to be fair for all schools.

“We need to look at all the schools. We can’t keep leaving out a school because they don’t have the people there. Those kids are deserving of the same thing other kids are,” Darby said.

Cheatham reverted the conversation back to the number of schools in discussion.

“This turfing isn’t just for football,” he said. “This will benefit band, lacrosse, soccer…With turf, we fix a lot of issues. Our main job is to spend the tax payer’s money wisely and…”

“And you think this is the way to do it?” Lott asked.

Cheatham replied, “I can tell you this…spending a million dollars in Plain Dealing for four home games a year is probably not a smart use of the money. I think the people in your area would probably agree with that.”

Cheatham continued: “Yes, I do believe that we have ignored our athletic facilities for years. Now, everywhere you go on I-20 they have turf fields. Here we are behind the times…I understand that you are fighting for Plain Dealing and I understand that we want everybody to have everything, but when it comes down to it, we have to make good, sound decisions of where we are spending the money.”

The purchase and installation of artificial turf has only been discussed at the committee level and has not advanced out of committee for discussion at a Bossier Parish School Board meeting.

District 6 representative Glen Bullard said he would love to see artificial turf installed, but reminded board members that there are more pressing issues on the table.

“I can not in my mind justify spending however many millions of dollars to turf these fields when we have students and teachers daily utilizing a temporary classroom facility,” Bullard said. “Athletics and other extracurricular activities are an important component of the well-rounded education we provide to our students. But our number one priority is the academic preparation of these children for their future lives.”