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Turf field

Northport-East Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Northport-East Northport school board members approved an almost $40 million bond referendum to improve school facilities and classroom space, infrastructure and athletic facilities during a Dec. 14 meeting.

The bond includes a $2 million plan for a new stadium and track at the high school, as well as a new turf field and the creation of security vestibules at every school in the district.

All schools in the districts will undergo improvements through the bond, with projects like bathroom reconstructions, classroom improvements, sink and countertop replacements, and sidewalk and paving improvements. Northport and East Northport middle schools athletic fields will also receive upgrades including replacing of the tracks, and improving of fields. The most costly improvements are set for Northport High School, where more than $16 million will be spent on athletic upgrades, science lab reconstruction and more.

At the meeting residents expressed concern with the creation of turf fields, citing health issues with the turf infill.

“I believe the board wants to and will get input and discussions on the type of fill. We want the safest choice of course for our students.” —Andrew Rapiejko

“Has there been any considerations for the potential health risks with turf burns, body fluids on the field, and joint injury in young athletes?” Tom Fischer, an East Northport resident asked at the meeting. “There is also an issue of artificial turf fields heating up substantially, and September this year was beastly hot. I really can’t imagine high school football players fully clad in that field-generated heat. That would certainly increase the risk of heat exhaustion.”

Trustee Regina Pisacani, who headed the Athletic Facilities Citizens Advisory Committee, the group which surveyed the school’s athletic fields and made suggestions for upgrades, said there were many debates on turf.

“The committee had a lot of different turf companies come in and we had a couple physical therapists who had concerns about the turf,” she said. “You can find articles for both sides of the coin. You can find articles that say there are significant injuries on turf and natural grass.”

Paul Klimuszko, director of physical education, athletics and health at Northport said students are not allowed to play if it’s too hot outside. Section XI athletics forbids schools from allowing players outside once it reaches 95 on the heat index.

“Once Section XI calls a heat advisory, there’s not playing on any of the fields,” he said. “You know I’ve never seen a heat advisory that says not on the turf but still on the grass. Once it gets to a certain temperature it’s no activities.”

When Northport resident Carl Lick asked for a definite plan from the board on the type of turf the district plans on using, he added, “Asbestos was safe until it wasn’t safe. Smoking was safe until it wasn’t safe. I think we have to err on the side of safety.”

Board President Andrew Rapiejko said the turf fields are a small amount of the whole bond referendum, and the board doesn’t plan on going into the nitty-gritty details of every part of the bond at this point.

“So the details of exactly which fill we are going to use, we’re not going to decide right away because I think there is a lot to that,” he said. “What the board at this point needs to look at is the cost, when it comes time for the decision of what kind of infill we will use. I believe the board wants to and will get input and discussions on the type of fill. We want the safest choice of course for our students.”

The bond had been discussed for several months leading up to last week’s vote, and input was taken from residents, special committees, board members, administrators and more. The scope of work was approved unanimously, and the bond will go to a community vote in February 2017.