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Cost of doing business, Pt. 1

Note: The following is one in a series of columns that have been written across the years on subjects of a philosophical, ethical or practical nature by an area resident who prefers to go by the nom de plume of A. Moralis -- a reference to what the writer sees as the lack of a moral compass in the world during this rapidly changing Age of the Internet.

By A. Moralis

WATKINS GLEN, Feb. 23, 2017 -- I received a fact sheet in the mail last week stating; "On March 28, 2017 the Watkins Glen Central School District residents will vote on a $12.6 million capital project that carries no additional tax impact." Really? Perhaps it is leaving out the remainder of the proposal--which is to say it carries no additional tax impact right now. The last time we heard of free money with no taxpayer impact was when the Field House was being proposed, and just look at how the school taxes have gone up since then. Do you really think there is no correlation?

Another pointed question: Do we really need artificial turf on the infields of the baseball and softball diamonds? In truth, we can barely get enough kids to try out for baseball (thanks in part to the talent drain the club-turned-varsity sport of lacrosse has engendered), and there hasn’t been a contending softball team here in years -- one that has developed a following beyond the players' parents and siblings. And a fifth tennis court and two outdoor basketball courts? Do we really need them ahead of academic improvement efforts? Do we really need them when enrollment has been on the steady decline? Do we really want to add to athletics when more practical pursuits -- hands-on, cost-worthy classes like woodshop, metal shop and mechanical drawing -- have been effectively jettisoned? Wouldn't it make more sense to bring those back? (I don't want to hear about the benefits of virtual welding. Virtual does not equal reality.)

Beyond that, what would be the cost of replacing the artificial turf on the baseball, softball and football fields, say in eight years -- the estimated given life of such fields? And what will be the cost of maintaining the tennis and basketball courts in future years? And don’t get me going on the need -- or lack thereof -- for the expensive and slow-to-develop lacrosse program.

But back to the artificial turf. According to my online study (and there is lots of material, some pro and some -- and let this be a warning bell -- negative), modern artificial turf has three layers: drainage, shock absorbing, and surface. The surface has polyethylene plastic blades that simulate grass and a several-inch layer of "infill" that keep the blades upright. The infill varies by manufacturer and may include ground-up recycled tires, ground-up soles of athletic shoes, silica sand, and/or thermoplastic or rubber material (which is referred to as "crumb rubber"). Crumb rubber has been found to contain materials such as toxic metals (including zinc, lead, arsenic, and chromium, which have many harmful effects on humans and the environment), polycyclic hydrocarbons (PAHs), latex and other rubbers (which can cause allergic reactions), and phthalates (which can have adverse effects on the reproductive organs, lungs, kidneys and liver).

Among the negatives:

-- The crumb rubber does not stay in place, can stick to the skin, and then travel through the school and into your home.
-- Artificial turf temperatures generated by sunlight are dramatically hotter than on natural grass fields, and can potentially lead to burns, dehydration, and heat exhaustion.
-- Dog, goose, cat, and other droppings do not decompose on artificial turf.
-- The turf has a life expectancy of five to ten years (generally around eight, versus at least 15 years for grass fields), and to replace it can be very expensive. Has anybody thought to map out that cost ahead of time, rather than hide their heads in the infill?

Why is the School Board not thinking this through? And if board members have, why are they not sharing those thoughts with us in greater detail? They seem hell bent on getting this passed as quickly as possible, not even waiting for the day of the next board and budget vote in May.

Why is artificial turf even being considered, especially when some of our children are not reading, writing, or performing at grade level when they graduate? It makes me ill to think there are millions of excess dollars to spend on sports, but there is no additional money to hire teachers and to spend on actual learning. I am in favor of maintaining the buildings we have, but not adding the athletic upgrades.

So ... the cost of doing business is done at a cost to whom? I'm voting no on this project, and hoping the School Board comes up with a plan without the synthetic frills.

© The Odessa File 2017
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869