DOLTON | Thornton Township High School District 205 officials agreed Wednesday to seek bids for installing artificial turf on the football fields at Thornton, Thornridge and Thornwood high schools.
The School Board approved seeking the bids by a 4-2 vote. Board members Edward Crayton and Bernadette Lawrence voted against, and Lauren Green was absent.
The awarding of a contract awaits a vote at a future meeting. The board's next scheduled meeting is Nov. 13.
The School Board approved seeking bids despite vocal opposition from several students and parents, who said they thought money spent on replacing the current grass fields with artificial turf could be better spent on other aspects of the high schools.
Thornridge student Jule Vernon said she feared artificial turf would shift funding away from proposed improvements to the Dolton school’s auditorium used for drama productions.
Board President Kenneth Williams said contracts already had been awarded for the auditorium renovation, and that the football field projects were a separate issue.
He said money would come from a $52 million grant the district received four years ago for capital projects in maintaining the schools. About $13 million of that money remains, and Williams said the terms of the grant limit how the money can be used.
Jevon T. Williams, also a Thornridge student, said he was concerned too much attention was being paid to sports programs. “School spirit is not about the football team but about helping students to learn to support each other,” he said.
Williams said artificial turf would benefit the school district by being less expensive and less time-consuming to maintain. He also said turf would allow the district’s soccer programs to use the stadiums and could allow for more community use of stadium facilities.
He said any reputable contract would provide a multi-year guarantee for the turf fields.
While noting that some people have concerns about playing on artificial turf, Williams said, "There are pros and cons for both (turf and grass). But I believe the benefits of turf will save the district money in the long run.”
Lawrence said she thinks it is “a waste of dollars” to spend money on artificial turf, which will not improve educational quality in the district.
“No one is going to come in and take over the school district if there is no turf on the football fields, but the state could well come in and take us over if our test scores don’t start going up,” she said.
Crayton, who often opposes Williams on issues before the School Board, said he’d rather see money spent to improve restroom facilities and the concession stands at the stadiums.
“I’m an athlete, I get the need to maintain the facilities,” he said. “But we need more clean, usable washrooms and usable concessions, but now we’re going to put turf out there.”