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Synthetic turf field is Westerly’s priority?


After their synthetic turf wishes were placed at low priority by Westerly’s School Department, some sports fans recently tried an end run past school and town officials. They tried to rush a $2 million, 20-year bond issue — to buy some synthetic turf with a 12-year lifespan.

This was a bad play, for many reasons.

Synthetic turf would either take money away from the teaching that our children really need. Or it would raise our taxes. More likely, it would do both. It would certainly put Westerly deeper in debt.

Synthetic turf would be bad economics. Despite advocates’ claims, it won’t save enough money to justify its cost. We are told that we would save more than 800 man-hours of annual grass maintenance. But we wouldn’t save, because they plan to find other stuff for those same men to do. And even the vendor suggested adding a paid teacher — to monitor the turf for wads of bubblegum and Gatorade. Wasting a valuable teacher on bubblegum patrol would be demeaning — and costly.

Synthetic turf’s advocates would encourage increased evening and weekend use of the field, just when neighbors want peaceful enjoyment of their properties.

Synthetic turf often uses old, ground-up tires as filler between the plastic blades of grass. The vendor says that’s OK, because they wash this stuff before putting it on our children’s fields. Does water remove the chemicals from those tires? This is stuff that many landfills reject. Whether wise state officials now tell us it’s OK or not, do we want our kids playing on it?

Synthetic turf sends the wrong message to those kids recruited to support the proposal.

It tells them not to look ahead. It tells them not to plan for what we really need. Instead, it teaches them to ignore budgeting — and to rush to buy some pretty fields on credit, with big delayed payments. It trains them to rely upon the vendor — who wants to sell them this thing — for reasons to buy. It shows them how to score what they want for themselves, rather than to assist the greater Westerly team.

At 3 percent interest, $2 million would actually cost us $2.6 million over 20 years.

We can do better. We can provide far better things than synthetic turf to prepare kids for a competitive world. We could set up after-school programs for poor, underperforming kids. Or preschool for 4-year-olds. Or more science and marketable skills classes. Or upgrade our schools, so all can better learn. And we’ve also got lots of other important priorities in Westerly.

Turf advocates will try again this November. So, let’s take a timeout, set our priorities, and send synthetic turf to the showers.

Philo Willetts

Westerly



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