The turf war in Bridgeport is over.
After months of discussion and a vote two months ago not to purchase artificial turf, Bridgeport ISD’s board of trustees approved the purchase and installation of artificial turf for Bull Memorial Stadium at Monday night’s meeting.
The board voted 6-1 to install the new playing surface for more than $750,000. Board member Marti Hines cast the dissenting vote.
Hines cited an uncertain future in school funding and district needs as reasons for her dissenting vote.
“There are so many things we don’t know will happen,” she said. “I’ve said it before. I’m not against turf. I really wish we had it. There are just too many things we don’t know.”
Before voting, board members asked if educators were wanting for anything.
“I just want to make sure our No. 1 priority is still on the classroom,” Lee Snodgrass said.
“Are there things in the classroom our teachers need now?” member Charles Mauldin asked. “I’m not asking for pie in the sky, but things we really need right now.”
“At this point we’ve not denied anything that someone needs,” Superintendent Eddie Bland said. “We’ve been comparing what we spend per student and classroom and comparing it to grade levels in other districts. We’re so far ahead. Our expense per student supplies is twice the average.”
With looming water shortages, the district also looked at the turf as a way to save money on water bills for upkeep of a grass field.
“We don’t know how much water is going to be out there,” board member Scott Stowers said. “If it doesn’t come a 15-inch rain, there’s not going to be enough. No one is gonna be able to water these football fields. Everybody wants to do the green thing. This is the green thing to do.”
“We’ve had droughts before, and we still played football,” Hines said.
“There are going to be costs with a grass or turf field,” Athletic Director Danny Henson said. “But the dynamics have changed so much in the past five to six years is why you see so many stadiums moving to the turf. They look at the same cost dynamics. On a 20-year projection you see savings of $5,000 to $6,000 per year on water cost, and that’s assuming water prices stay the same.”
The winning bid came from Paragon Sports Constructors. The Fort Worth-based company proposed a base bid of $764,114.
The district spends $55,000 to $65,000 per year in utility and labor costs to maintain the grass field. At current rates, it would take approximately 12 years for the new field to pay for itself in terms of savings on labor and utilities.
“It only costs about half as much to replace it,” said Bret Allen, vice president of sales with Paragon. “It’s a beefed-up product. It will last 10 years at least. Our oldest turf job we have out there is the field at Oklahoma State we put in nine years ago.”
“Ten years is very conservative,” board member Ken Kilpatrick said. “There’s a field in Amarillo on its 15th year. I can’t think of a hotter, drier place than Armadillo[sic], Texas.”
The turf will also be ready to field a soccer game, but Henson said he has no plans to create a soccer program at this time.
“I feel that if we started one now it would be a drain on our other programs,” Henson said. “That’s why I recommended that we not do it.”
But he added that the turf field could possibly be used by club soccer or peewee football leagues.
They hope to install the new playing surface over the summer and have it ready to go by the start of the fall football season.
NEW POSITION ON TURF
At its March meeting, the board voted 4-2 against the proposal, with Kilpatrick and Stowers the only votes in favor. Jim Bost, Hines, Mauldin and Tom Talley all voted against it. Snodgrass was absent. At the March meeting Bost said it was an issue they could vote on again in the future.
One difference was the fact the district is now eligible for a zero-interest federal loan worth up to $5.9 million that can be used to construct new or improve existing facilities.
Just before action and discussion on the turf, the board voted 7-0 to allow Bland to begin moving forward on a $5.9 million Qualified Construction Bond. The zero-interest loan could be paid back over 10 years.
The district first applied for the loan, which was part of the federal government’s stimulus plan, in 2010. They were denied at the time, but Bland was recently informed that the school is now eligible since other schools didn’t take advantage of it.
“Other schools didn’t do it because they didn’t have the capital to repay the loan,” Bland said.
Since the original application for the loan was filed years ago, the district has already completed several of the projects on the list, such as replacement of HVAC systems and renovations to campuses. But they can update the list of projects, and spend the money on items like turf, replacing student laptops or other construction or renovation projects.
“We can sit and let our money sit and draw interest while we spend the bond money on projects we need to do,” Stowers said. “There is not a downside apparently … This can save us money and maybe even make us some money. These are all things we’ve been wanting to do.”
The motion was just for Bland to begin the process, not to go ahead and sell the bonds. The board can still change its mind if trustees notice something they don’t like in the final bond contract.
“Anytime the bowling ball rolls our way we need to set the pins up,” Kilpatrick said. “We need to take advantage of it.”