A proposal to convert the grass field at Memorial Park to artificial turf for year-round use by school and community sports teams appears dead after school officials declined to contribute $500,000 to $700,000 toward the effort.
Tom McNell, who has been trying for the past three years to get an agreement between City of Antioch and Antioch Unified School District officials for the joint-use field on Putnam Street next to Park Middle School, all but gave up on the idea after failing to get the school board to support it at its Aug. 27 meeting.
School officials acknowledged the need for artificial turf fields, particularly at Antioch and Deer Valley high schools, but said they can't afford to spend money for turf at this time despite a possible pledge of $1.2 million in city money toward the turf field.
I'm not sure what if anything has caused me to toss and turn in the last four years as a board member as this turf issue, said Board President Walter Ruehlig. It borders on the obscene that Antioch does not have turf. To say we are a day late and a dollar short is an understatement. We stand pretty much alone in the area as a city without turf.
Up until recently I was leaning toward doing something that I wouldn't normally entertain, which is to dip into the General Fund. But things have taken an incredible amount of bounces here. We still don't have a budget from Sacramento. We are possibly looking at two or three nightmarish (budget) years back to back.
Last fall, I have to confess, I encouraged Tom to raise the flag (for a turf field). Unfortunately, we are in about as uncertain financial times as you can imagine. At this point I can't say I would be willing to dip into the General Fund for $500,000 to $700,000 dollars. I couldn't vote for that in good conscience not after laying off school psychologists, maintenance people.
Ruehlig suggested that Board Member Gary Agopian form a foundation to try to raise private money for the turf field.
Agopian said he's interested in doing that, along with directing school district staff to look at funding alternatives. He agreed that the district is not in a position to spend money for the turf field at this time, but pointed out that grass fields aren't cheap either, as they require more maintenance and more frequent replacement than artificial turf.
We do need to replace it; there's no doubt about that, said Agopian. Private money needs to be brought into this. I don't know why we can't think outside the box and do a venture with the city, the school district and private money. I would like to see our high schools have turf fields; they are safe. We need the ability to use them over and over and over again. It doesn't happen on grass fields. They get worn out; every couple of years you're ripping that out.
But McNell told the board that the prospect of turf conversion at Memorial Field in the near future is problematic. He said it might be better to wait a couple years for the real estate market to rebound, and in the meantime arrange for developers to pay for a turf field in a sports complex somewhere in southeast Antioch, possibly in a water retention basin such as the one next to Dozier-Libbey Medical High School at Sand Creek and Deer Valley roads.
The reason we focused on Memorial Field is: it's available now and has lights, he said. But it's gotten bogged down. If we are looking at doing something two or three years out, there are other properties coming on line. If you go to (seek) foundation money, my time would be spent better working on city property that will be accessible in two years.