Turf wars ahead?


A petition drive is underway to gauge community interest for installing synthetic turf at the large athletic fields at all five Fayette high schools.

Supporters are hoping to collect 5,000 signatures in a bid to have the estimated $3.2 million cost added to the next education sales tax program proposed by the school board, said organizer Sally Herman, a parent of two lacrosse players at McIntosh High.

The final decision on the matter rests with the Fayette County Board of Education, which is currently faced with a shortfall in the upcoming budget year of more than $6 million across the system.

School officials, Herman noted, are concerned that the project could rankle enough voters to doom the ESPLOST, which depends on the approval of county voters. The goal is to present the signatures to the school board at its Feb. 13 meeting.

Herman sees a variety of benefits to the fields, even for residents who don’t have children in high school athletics. The turf fields would help boost property values and keep Fayette County an attractive place for those moving to metro Atlanta, as other high schools in metro Atlanta have gone to artificial turf, Herman said.

Coweta County is also slated to add artificial turf to its three high school stadiums, also funded by an ESPLOST, she noted. Cobb, Forsyth, Fulton and Gwinnett high schools with turf fields had theirs funded by an ESPLOST, Herman said.

“It is imperative that Fayette County gets these turf fields to continue to be competitive with our neighbor to the west and our neighbors to the north,” Herman said.

The turf fields would only account for about 4 percent of the ESPLOST, with the rest going towards academics, Herman noted.

There was consideration given to raising the money privately, but that plan was set aside over concerns it wouldn’t be able to meet the $3.2 million goal, Herman said.

The chief athletic benefit of the fields will enable more practice and game time, as they drain quickly after (and during) a rainstorm when grass fields would be too muddy to play on, Herman said. Projections are for field use to increase from about 10,000 hours a year to 28,400, Herman said.

That’s a pretty significant benefit considering that at McIntosh during the rainy spring season, some JV games have not been rescheduled because there isn’t enough field time available, Herman said.

The additional field time would also be helpful for local recreation programs, she added.

While each field will cost about $600,000 to install, they will only cost about $7,000 a year to maintain, compared to $28,500 a year for a grass field, Herman said.

Broken down over 10 years, including installation, the total cost for a grass field is $480,000 and the total cost for a synthetic turf field is $670,000, she noted.

Volunteers have been around the county seeking signatures, but the effort is challenging because of the holidays and also a lack of a centralized location to approach a large number of people, Herman said.

“We are not able, obviously, to get ahold of everybody for this petition,” Herman said. “We’d love to but it’s just not possible.”

In addition to having volunteers all over the county seeking signatures for petitions, the effort also has a page on Facebook where residents are encouraged to post their comments about the concept whether they are for or against the project.

“We want to hear the naysayers too,” Herman said. “… If people can let us know what they’re thinking, that’s going to answer our questions.”

The Facebook page can be found by typing the following phrase in the search field: “Turf fields for Fayette County georgia high schools.”