LAWRENCE: School board authorizes $3.6 million for new turf fields

By James McEvoy, Special Writer
LAWRENCE — New synthetic turf athletic fields in the district came one step closer to reality on Oct. 14 after the school board approved the allocation of $3.6 million toward the project.
The funds will come from the district’s capital reserve based on architectural estimates and anticipated costs for Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, according to district officials.
“This has been, at least since I’ve been on the board, four years that we’ve been directly involved with this. We’ve done our due diligence,” Board President Kevin Van Hise said. “We believe we can bring a project that we need to address our student needs for that amount of money. This is not something that we’re just willy-nilly picking numbers out.”
The project has significant support, Mr. Van Hise said, based primarily on limited facilities that present safety hazards, especially during seasonal changes.
Resident Paul Schindel, however, expressed concern over whether materials used in the synthetic field could pose a health risk due to cancer-causing materials.
“It seems to me that this is progressing on a pretty fast track with a lot of unanswered questions,” Mr. Schindel said, also citing concerns over installation and maintenance costs.
Board Vice President Michael Horan took exception to Mr. Schindel’s inquiry about potential cancer-causing agents, calling it “scare tactics.”
“You’re beating a dead horse here,” Mr. Horan said. “This whole cancer thing is ridiculous.”
Mr. Schindel said he took offense to Mr. Horan’s inferences, as Superintendent Crystal Edwards sought to diffuse the discussion.
“There is no intent to not involve the community nor intent to not have people have their say or have their input,” Dr. Edwards told Mr. Schindel. “Nor is there any intent to rush through this.”
Dr. Edwards said there is no timeline on the project as it’s still in the preliminary stages and additional details have yet to been decided.
Also at the meeting, district officials announced that nearly a month after reaching a tentative agreement, they are unable to reveal details of the new pact between the board and the Lawrence Township Education Association.
District officials had expected to approve a memorandum of understanding, a process Mr. Van Hise described as “dotting T’s and crossing I’s.” A delay caused by verification of salary guides is not expected to jeopardize the agreement.
The pact came after a Sept. 9 meeting with a state-appointed fact-finder. The contract expired June 30, 2014, and LTEA members, who include teachers, maintenance, custodial and security staff, have been working under the terms of that contract.
The school board and teachers union’s contract negotiations teams met six times before the LTEA filed for mediation in October 2014. The two sides met with the Public Employment Relations Commission appointed-mediator twice before the teachers union asked for a fact-finder to be appointed in April