Why would you spend so much money for just a football field?
Of all the misconceptions surrounding Chesterton's proposal to install Field Turf in its stadium, that one seems to be the biggest.
"It would go from just a football field to a multi-use facility," football and boys track coach John Snyder said.
Usage of the present field is minimal, limited largely to varsity and JV football games.
With a synthetic surface, it multiplies exponentially. Soccer, Pop Warner, P.E. classes, Relay for Life, band, baseball-softball practices, the list goes on.
"You multiply the opportunity for concession revenues that can be manned by various non-revenue groups," Snyder said. "Now, all members of the Duneland School Corporation benefit from the facility."
A public forum was held last week. A former school board member addressed financial concerns. A Field Turf rep discussed specifics and Chesterton trainer Bernie Stento talked about safety issues.
"Our community's concerns are similar to the concerns of other communities," athletic director Garry Nallenweg said.
Money being at the forefront. Folks see a $776,000 price tag and freak. It's only natural, especially in this economic climate.
"There's never a good time to do it," Nallenweg said.
It's crucial to note that putting in turf doesn't mean a tax increase. Money has to come from the Capital Projects fund, specifically used for buildings and facilities. Teaching positions and school programs are not impacted.
"Sometimes, people forget that improving and maintaining a quality school, both academically and physically, will only help a community's property values," Snyder said.
If the plan is declined, the field is still going to have be replaced, so this isn't all or nothing. Nallenweg's simply tired of pouring money into a venue that hasn't paid any dividends.
"We've had problems from Day 1," he said. "We've looked at pitch, slope, irrigation, drainage. We re-sodded last year. Tell me that was worth the thousands we put into it. You come back every year and think you should have a mature lawn. It's just not taking. I can't, in good conscience, continue to put money into it. The bottom line is, it's killing athletics."
One of the long-standing issues is the marshy surface on which the facility is built. In 2008, Chesterton had to move a game to Portage. Two years ago, it had to practice at Portage in advance of its Valpo game and it had to play the Indians in a mud pit in the sectional.
"These two years, if for no other reason, prompted my desire for a turf field," Snyder said. "We consistently have to practice indoors in the fieldhouse when our practice field is too muddy or has standing water. It is a serious injury hazard."
Studies also show turf fields to be safer.
The Friends of Duneland Youth organization is raising money to assist Chesterton's endeavor, and it's been met with a good response so far.
The committee has done all it can do. Come Monday's school board meeting, the project will likely come down to a vote. Nallenweg is prepared to move forward one way or the other after the track regional.
About 10 region schools have a form of turf and not one isn't glad they did it. As a long-term investment, it's a no-brainer. At Chesterton, they'd recoup it even sooner. It just makes sense.
This column represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at email@example.com.