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Harborfields turf field proposal faces unfair odds in split-school bond vote, some say

Steve Dombrower of Greenlawn voices his concerns regarding

Steve Dombrower of Greenlawn voices his concerns regarding a capital improvement bond that may include a controversial turf field during a Harborfields school board meeting, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015. Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Harborfields school district officials have opted to split a capital bond proposition for improvement to district schools and a controversial synthetic turf field, angering some voters.

District residents are scheduled to vote on Oct. 27 for Proposition One, for $11.627 million to upgrade labs, auditoriums, and athletic facilities and other areas.

They would be asked to vote separately on Proposition Two, $1.985 million for the turf field at the high school.

The propositions include a clause that makes passage of the second contingent on passage of the first.

The split and especially the contingency clause has outraged those who want the turf field because they feel it puts them at a disadvantage.

School board members say it was the only way to offer the turf field fairly because a December 2013 community-initiated proposition to bond $3 million over 15 years for two turf fields at the school was overwhelmingly rejected -- 2,075 to 429.

School board member David Steinberg, who voted for the split, said the turf field is a "hot-button issue" that if connected to the first proposition would create a risk of the entire bond being defeated.

"I think that the first proposition is a need, and I look at the synthetic turf field as a want," Steinberg said. "I want to make sure the $11.6 million upgrades happen."

The board voted 4-2 for the split proposition at its meeting Wednesday after months of dialogue and meetings with community members.

Board members Nicholas P. Giuliano, Hansen Lee and Suzie Lustig also voted for presenting the bonds separately. Board president Thomas McDonagh and vice president Donald W. Mastroianni voted against the resolution. Board member Irene Gaughan was not at the meeting and did not vote.

The turf field has dominated the bond discussion, pitting those in the athletic community against those who do not want the synthetic field, often citing concerns over health and safety. Each side has also accused the other of Internet bullying.

At recent meetings, supporters of the turf field had said they would vote against the bond if the resolution did not include the synthetic field.

Peter Saros of Centerport, who brought the 2013 proposition to the board and who has been advocating for the latest turf field, said the board has created an artificially high hurdle for those who want the field proposal to pass.

"There's a lot of anger right now that the greatest athletic enhancement in over 20 years has been singled out to live or die on its own while other enhancements within the bond are not," Saros said.

Greenlawn resident Steven Dombrower, who voted against the 2013 bond, said before the split that the best alternative would be to increase the amount of the bond to include projects that had been removed and change to a turf field infill with which everyone would be comfortable.

"In light of the history, the board made the right decision splitting the turf field into its own proposition," he said. "This decision gives both propositions the best possible chance of passing and protects the renovation projects our district's infrastructure so desperately needs from not getting done while spending taxpayer money on a turf field."

Centerport resident Laurel Shiffrin said the split bond is unfair.

"The board clearly gave one group the ability to say 'I'm good, I don't want the turf, but I'm voting for orchestra and all these other things,' " she said. "But the people who said they would not vote for the bond if turf isn't in it, they don't have the option now. Now they have to vote for the first proposition."


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