Issaquah bond would finance new fields for middle schools

March 28, 2012

By Tom Corrigan

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NEW — 3:15 p.m. March 28,2012

There are several themes that come up over and over as backers and school officials talk about the prospect of placing artificial turf on the fields of each of the five Issaquah School District middle schools, including Maywood Middle School.

The upcoming bond package would provide the middle schools with rubberized outdoor running tracks if voters decide to approve the $219 million capital improvement plan on April 17.

District officials hope to install the turf and tracks at a cost of $1.5 million per school, not counting fields that could go in at a transplanted Issaquah Middle School.

The IMS fields would be added after the school is rebuilt; associated costs are not specifically spelled out in the district’s bond package.

The most common sentiment is artificial-turf fields could be used far more often than the current natural-turf models. According to the bond’s backers and school administrators, the reason is obvious — it rains here and often leaves the natural-turf fields unusable.

“Fields are taken out of service for weeks at a time,” said Lesley Austin, co-chairwoman of Volunteers for Issaquah Schools, the nonprofit group promoting the school bond issue.

With artificial turf in place, the fields could see up to five times the number of practices and games, according to Sara Niegowski, district director of communications. That assertion was repeated by many others.

“Speaking bluntly, our field is in pretty poor condition,” said Ann Swiftney, IMS athletic director.

Flooding problems are common. Swiftney cited a recent soccer game that  was cancelled because of field conditions. Maywood Middle School Principal Jason Morse said much the same.

“The field is really the classroom for our physical education classes,” he said, adding the school has some 400 to 600 students taking P.E. each day.

In winter, the Maywood field is little more than an inaccessible mud pit, he added.

“You step onto the field and you sink in a couple of inches,” Morse said.

Another repeated argument is that artificial turf would save the district significant maintenance dollars as opposed to natural-turf fields. Niegowski put the amount at about $30,000 per year per school for a total of about $150,000 a year district wide.

If the fields end up seeing more use, one more common contention is that the artificial turf will end up paying for itself over time, partly through reduced maintenance costs but also through added fees collected due to additional use by community groups.

“It’s going to be an added resource for everyone,” Swiftney said.

How much extra use the fields would receive is hard to say.

City of Issaquah spokeswoman Autumn Monahan declined to speculate on how much more the city Parks and Recreation Department might use the artificial turf fields, saying there would have to be a new deal worked out between the schools and the city. Local youth leagues contacted did not respond to requests for comment, but school officials said the fields are currently used by baseball, football, soccer and lacrosse organizations.

Morse said football league use causes considerable wear and tear to the existing natural-turf field at Maywood. He added that while he would welcome more use of revamped fields by the community, his top priority is his students.

“I’m really looking forward to the access it’s going to provide my P.E. students and teachers,” he said.

While much discussion focused on the fields, Morse and Swiftney also said the rubberized running tracks would be an asset as well. Teams regularly use brooms to sweep water off of the tracks, Morse said. Swiftney said she often loses use of a running lane to flooding. And both said the cinder tracks can be a safety hazard. A fall on the track can be serious, Swiftney said.

“It can tear you up pretty badly,” she added.

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