Tonawanda News

January 22, 2014

Turf talk

By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — The North Tonawanda School District Board of Education will form a subcommittee among three of its members to persue the idea of installing synthetic turf on the district’s football field and expand its athletic offerings with other possible additions. 

Board President Kevin LoCicero said talks on the topic picked up following a board meeting held last week, when the concept of purchasing the artificial material for the field was broached by former president and current board member Frank DiBernardo, who will be a member of the subcommittee along with Colleen Osborn and James Martineck. 

DiBernardo said the conversation about a synthetic field for a new stadium dates back to the district’s previous $48 million capital project that was completed in 2011, noting that it also includes the possibility of expanding its football, soccer and lacrosse practice fields with grass and adding a baseball diamond to the high school property, making a “multipurpose athletic field.” 

The announcement comes following a similar venture in the City of Tonawanda, which spent $12 million during the last several years to build Clinton H. Small Stadium with a synthetic field, among other projects. 

DiBernardo said the district requested a design concept from the same firm that worked on the City of Tonawanda’s athletic field six months ago, but at this juncture will only use it as a template for discussions. 

“Right now it’s very conceptual,” he said. “We’re basically throwing everything on the table and saying, ‘here’s our wish list.’” 

Yet the prospect of introducing an artificial field in the Lumber City, a project that would likely cost several million dollars to bring to fruition, follows years of cuts to staff and programs in the district and the consolidation of several schools -– a point recognized by several members in recent interviews. 

LoCicero said the board would not make any moves until more research is conducted and would in all probability not spend much, if any, taxpayer dollars, instead searching for federal and state money along with corporate donations to fund the venture. 

“I think now is the time to look at this,” he said.

As budgetary discussions gain steam among board members and district officials before a May vote is brought to city resident, early projections show that the district will likely be facing a roughly $1.9 million shortfall this year, depending on what state aid it receives. 

Board member Colleen Osborn, whose son was a football standout as a lineman in the NT program, said adding an artificial field could bring a level of prestige to the district program that could extend into other sports like lacrosse and baseball. But while she also admits that she’s a “big fan of football” she will be looking at the concept of spending millions of dollars amid several rough budgetary years with a skeptic’s eye. 

“This is a sports-minded community and it would definitely be something to be proud of,” she said. “But last year we had to make cuts to Spanish, math and social studies. I don’t want to be an irresponsible board member.” 

Superintendent Greg Woytila said without funding from outside the district coffers, it would be difficult to imagine spending the money during the district’s current fiscal scenario, which has been made more difficult in recent years with a slumping enrollment, a state-mandated cap on tax increases and annual uncertainty over how much the district may receive in state aid. 

“It’s something we’ve talked about for over a year since the last capital project ended,” Woytila said. “But then the budget got bad. We haven’t really been able to save a lot of money.”