The Harborfields school district in Greenlawn has scheduled a community forum Wednesday night on a 15-year, $3-million bond plan for two synthetic turf fields that has divided residents over whether now is the time to spend the money.
District officials hope the forum educates residents, some of whom support the plan, which also would enhance field accessibility for the physically challenged, upgrade the grass and baseball fields, and fund asbestos abatement of floor tiles at the high school.
Other residents oppose the plan, saying the district cut school supplies and let teachers go for the 2013-14 school year.
"There are a lot of things that everybody wants, but the idea of going further into debt doesn't make sense," resident and parent Steven Dombrower said. "We just can't afford this at this point."
But Peter Saros, who presented the school board in August with a community-driven petition asking for the turf fields and other upgrades, said he and some other "active sports parents" believe the district's athletes are at a disadvantage playing on grass fields. He said they believe turf fields are better for young athletes developing their skills.
"It would level the playing field for our kids with respect to the other districts that they participate [with] in athletic events," Saros, of Centerport, said. "It's the cost-ratio benefit: a relatively small cost for the average homeowner for a relatively large benefit for the student-athlete."
Another community benefit could emerge if the district allows the fields to be rented, generating income, Saros said.
Some residents have wondered how the idea for the $3-million expenditure has gotten so much traction, especially since in meetings and in notices sent out by the district, school board and district officials have reiterated that they did not initiate the proposition.
According to district officials, state and education law says a community member can submit a petition for certain specific purposes, provided a minimum number of qualified voters sign. In this case, 127 signatures were required, and Saros presented a petition to the board with 214 signatures.
The petition met legal requirements, so the board was compelled to undergo a State Environmental Quality Review, and once the request for the improvements was deemed in compliance, by law the board had to authorize a proposition to present to voters.
Residents who attended a recent school board meeting were skeptical about the plan, mostly because the turf fields last for 10 to 15 years, possibly shorter than the length of the bond, and it will cost the district about $800,000 in 10 years to replace them. The annual maintenance of the two synthetic fields is $18,000.
District superintendent Diana Todaro last week emphasized the numbers are estimates. The annual cost of the bond would be about $30 a year for the average property in the district.
The district will be eligible for a total of about $65,000 in state education aid because of the asbestos abatement.
The 7 p.m. forum will be held at Oldfield Middle School, 2 Oldfield Rd.