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Harborfields school officials debate $13M capital plan

Harborfields High School is shown in this undated

Harborfields High School is shown in this undated file photo. Photo Credit: Instagram user artonorato

Harborfields school district officials plan to offer a nearly $13 million capital improvement bond to update auditoriums, gymnasiums, instructional and other areas, but the community conversation is being dominated by debate over adding a synthetic turf field at the high school.

In December 2013, district residents overwhelmingly voted -- 2,075 to 429 -- against a community-initiated proposition to bond $3 million over 15 years for two turf fields at the school.

District Superintendent Diana Todaro said at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year that the school board created a capital improvement committee -- comprising staff, community members, administrators and school board members -- to access school facilities.

"As a result of the committee's work, the [high school] turf field became part of that proposal," Todaro said.

The latest proposal would add one synthetic turf field, possibly black crumb rubber, but other options are being considered. It would also renovate and upgrade three science labs, reconfigure the orchestra room and practice area, and make a host of other improvements touching the district's four schools.

The bond would be for 15 years. District officials said on a $10 million project, taxes on a home assessed at $4,000 would increase by $65 annually.

At two recent meetings on the bond proposal, the turf field dominated the discussion, pitting those in the athletic community against those who do not want the synthetic field, who cited concerns over health and safety.

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

Each side has also accused the other of Internet bullying.

Peter Saros of Centerport, who brought the 2013 proposition to the board and was on the capital improvement committee, said the dialogue has been "limited and based on conjecture rather than fact, and it hasn't been very direct, so a lot has been on social media creating a misinformed atmosphere."

But he said both sides seem to be ready to move forward as discussions have shifted to considering a "safer" infill product for the synthetic turf field.

"I think the athletic community is very happy because that's an easy bridge to cross," Saros said. "And I think the negative community should also be happy because there are a lot of options there, and at the end of the day the whole community will benefit from this bond that addresses so many interest groups, and everybody wins."

Greenlawn resident Steven Dombrower, who had opposed the 2013 bond, said the best alternative would be to increase the amount of the bond to include projects that had been removed, such as a boiler at Thomas J. Lahey Elementary School and an infill for a new turf field that would satisfy everyone.

"If you do this, I truly believe our community will come back together as one and approve the bond, even if the total spent is several million dollars higher," he said.

The district has set up an additional summer meeting on the bond on July 22. The board must decide and vote at the Aug. 26 meeting on what will be in the bond to present to voters, in order to meet legal deadlines for an Oct. 27 vote.


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