WILMINGTON AREA SCHOOLS Board hopes to fund stadium renovation without tax boost

Artificial turf will save money in the long run, one board member said.
NEW WILMINGTON, Pa. -- Wilmington area school directors want to fund a nearly $4 million renovation of the district's athletic fields without raising taxes.
School Director Mary Buckwalter said the need to replace the aluminum bleachers at the football stadium was the impetus for the project.
Directors will consider bids Monday that will include renovation of the football-soccer stadium, track, concession stands and restrooms, and the baseball and football fields. The stadium package also includes replacing the stadium lighting, she said.
Buckwalter said there is a line item in the budget for stadium renovations at $100,000 per year. She said the board hopes they can borrow to pay for the renovation, paying it back at $100,000 per year, and not increase taxes.
The board doesn't yet know how much of the budget will come from the state, nor what insurance costs will be, but Buckwalter said board members are optimistic they can do the project without raising taxes.
Will urge fund raising
Buckwalter said board members plan to urge athletic boosters and other school and community groups to raise funds for the project as a supplement to the loan. She emphasized the state does not fund athletic facilities.
The board will likely approve bids for some or all of the project at its meeting, she said. Alternative bids include the baseball and softball field renovation, and artificial surface rather than grass for the football-soccer field.
She said that installing artificial surface rather than grass will add about $500,000 to the project but that the turf will be cost-effective in the long run.
"We have two football teams and four soccer teams that use that field, and we studied and studied the options," she said. "At first, I was dead set against the turf. There is no ideal surface, but for the wear and tear on our field, the turf makes sense."
Buckwalter said with turf the field can be used for many more things than soccer and football. The gym gets the most use of any area of the school, and a turf-covered field could allow gym classes and other events to take place outside after a rain, she said. There might be mud everywhere else, but there wouldn't be on the turf field, she noted.
Opposes artificial turf
Director Nancy Hutchison said she is opposed to the artificial turf, however. She said the board has been gathering information about the injury hazards of artificial surface, and in the past few days it has received more information about lawsuits that are the result of those injuries.
She said a recent straw vote by board members was 5-4 in favor of the artificial surface.
She said the bids would be $2.7 million with natural grass and $3.9 million with the turf.
If the board votes to use natural grass on the football-soccer field, renovation of practice fields could be included for that price. An alternative bid of using the artificial surface without doing the practice fields is $3.1 million, she said.
She said she hopes that new information about the lawsuits linked to artificial turf will change some board members' minds.