TIME FOR TURF

Dis­trict 218 schools need to up­grade fields — now

Daily Southtown (Sunday) - - SPORTS - Pat Dis­abato pdis­abato@tribpub.com Twit­ter @dis­abato

When it­was an­nounced in May that Dis­trict 218 high schools Eisen­hower, Richards and Shep­ard­were ranked byU.S. News& World Re­port among the state’s top 100 high schools, I couldn’t be prouder as an alum.

For the record, Shep­ard­was ranked 54th, Richards 66th and Eisen­hower 68th.

As an Eisen­hower grad, I know first­hand the dis­trict of­fers fam­i­lies a di­verse learn­ing com­mu­nity while be­ing en­gaged, chal­lenged and sup­ported in the class­room.

A big­ger chal­lenge, how­ever, is walk­ing on the three schools’ foot­ball fieldswith­out twist­ing an an­kle or suf­fer­ing amore se­ri­ous in­jury.

Each fa­cil­ity is be­com­ing an eye­sore to the cam­pus which, oth­er­wise, has spec­tac­u­lar curb ap­peal. It’s get­ting to the point where if Iwas the fam­ily of leg­endary coach GaryKorho­nen, I’d con­sider re­mov­ing his name from Richards’ field.

I’m happy to re­port that good news could be on the hori­zon.

The dis­trict an­nounced at its Oc­to­ber school board meet­ing that it­was go­ing to study the mer­its of in­stalling ar­ti­fi­cial turf at all three fields.

Iwould sug­gest the sev­en­per­son board take awalk on each field. It­won’t take very long to re­al­ize the need.

There isn’t a fer­til­izer on the mar­ket that can re­store the lush­ness each de­serves.

In­stalling field turf is a long over­due in­vest­ment, one that­was on the brink of be­com­ing a re­al­ity 10 years ago. I sawthe draw­ings back then for all three fa­cil­i­ties. They­were mag­nif­i­cent.

But then the re­ces­sion hit and the dis­trict put the plans on hold.

A decade later, some­one fi­nally de­cided it­was­worth ex­plor­ing again.

That per­son­would be school board mem­ber Robert Stokas— bless his heart.

“There are a lot of peo­ple in the com­mu­nity in­ter­ested in hav­ing turf fields,” Stokas said.“We need to get this to the fore­front to see if it’s some­thing the pub­lic wants and needs. We need to have a se­ri­ous dis­cus­sion to see if this makes sense.”

More ap­pro­pri­ately, if it­makes cents. Of course, it will re­quire a sig­nif­i­cant amount of­money. Plas­tic surgery isn’t cheap. Bloom in­stalled ar­ti­fi­cial turf over the sum­mer at a cost of $1.3 mil­lion.

So mul­ti­ply that by three— maybe even four if the board agrees to in­stall turf to its ad­min­is­tra­tion fa­cil­ity in Oak Lawn. Ad­di­tion­ally, Richards has some is­sues with drainage, which could dou­ble the cost.

We’re talk­ing about an in­vest­ment of ap­prox­i­mately $6.5 mil­lion, give or take a few hun­dred thou­sand.

The lo­cal­money needed pos­si­bly could be re­duced by­way of a state or fed­eral grant.

“Of coursewe have to see if it’s some­thingwe can af­ford,” Stokas said.

I don’t think that will be an is­sue. The dis­trict has $78mil­lion fund bal­ance. The Illi­nois State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion has awarded the dis­trict with fi­nan­cial recog­ni­tion, the high­est pos­si­ble fis­cal rat­ing for 14 con­sec­u­tive years. The dis­trict runs a tight ship, some­thing as a tax­payer I ap­pre­ci­ate.

In the case of in­stalling ar­ti­fi­cial turf, how­ever, a lit­tle too tight.

In re­cent years, funds have been al­lo­cated for a new the­ater, cafe­te­rias and science labs. Now it’s time to loosen the purse strings and di­rect dol­lars to ath­let­ics. Specif­i­cally, ar­ti­fi­cial turf.

This isn’t en­tirely about foot­ball, folks. The soc­cer teams, cheer­lead­ers, phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion classes and march­ing bands would all ben­e­fit.

Lo­cal youth sports teams could play on the fa­cil­ity, pro­vid­ing a won­der­ful show­case for the three schools.

Base­ball and soft­ball teams could prac­tice on it when their fields are un­playable.

While the ini­tial in­vest­ment is large, the dis­trict will save a bun­dle on itswa­ter bill, gas for the lawn­mower, paint for lin­ing the fields and fer­til­izer. In turn, that will pro­vide ad­di­tional man­power for other du­ties around cam­pus.

Nearly every high school in the South­land has in­stalled ar­ti­fi­cial turf— St. Rita has done it twice. This isn’t about keep­ing up­with the Jone­ses.

It’s about en­hanc­ing the ath­letic ex­pe­ri­ence for stu­den­tath­letes.

“The first thingwe need to get is a fea­si­bil­ity study for turf and bring it to the (school) board,” Stokas said. “It has to be put on the agenda. Un­til thenwe’re in a hold­ing pat­tern.”

The next school board­meet­ing isNov. 15. Some­thing needs to be added to the agenda.

PAT DIS­ABATO/DAILY SOUTH­TOWN

The cur­rent state of Eisen­hower’s foot­ball field war­rants a dis­cus­sion about the need for an in­vest­ment in ar­ti­fi­cial turf by Dis­trict 218, which also in­cludes Richards and Shep­ard.

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