Artificial system

Portsmouth will remain with an artificial turf pitch at High School

PORTSMOUTH — City officials are pushing ahead with a plan to replace the existing artificial grass pitch surface at Portsmouth Secondary School.

The city council voted 7-2 at a recent meeting to authorize a $3.1 million bond issue to pay for a number of school improvement projects. That includes $1.6 million for the high school’s artificial turf field and tennis courts, according to a memo prepared by City Manager Karen Conard.

The remaining $1.5 million will be used to repair and replace exterior windows at Dondero and Little Harbor Elementary Schools, according to Conard.

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Some community members suggested replacing the existing artificial turf pitch at the high school with a natural grass pitch after low levels of PFAS contaminants were found in the city’s new artificial turf pitch on the community campus.

PFAS are man-made chemicals that have been used in products around the world since the 1950s, including fire-fighting foam, nonstick cookware, and water-repellent fabrics.

In addition to being a suspected carcinogen, exposure to PFAS in drinking water can harm child development, raise cholesterol levels, damage the immune system and interfere with human hormones, according to the Agency for the Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).

Artificial turf pitches are seen in schools, colleges and professional stadiums around the world and city officials have stood by their assertion that they pose no threat to those who play there.

More use, less maintenance

Many city councilors have spoken out in favor of keeping an artificial turf pitch – as included in the city’s capital improvement plan – because it can be used more frequently and for more months of the year. year and is easier to maintain than natural grass.

Councilman Andrew Bagley pointed out the difference between having “PFAS in a plastic mat you play on and PFAS in the drinking water you drink.”

“I think it’s important that we understand the difference between playing on artificial turf and drinking water that’s been contaminated,” Bagley said ahead of last week’s vote to approve the bond clearance.

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He also believes that “we don’t have enough land, we don’t have enough fields” in Portsmouth.

“So one grass field equals several grass fields,” Bagley said, adding that “we don’t have the space, the money or the resources to build as many grass fields as we need. “.

Replacing the existing artificial turf field at the high school with another gives more students the opportunity to play sports, he said.

Very small risks

“Giving our children the opportunity to play outweighs the very small risks, scientists say, these grass fields potentially have,” Bagley said.

Councilman Rich Blalock said the weather in New England was not working well with natural grass fields, noting that after rain, grass fields in the city need to rest for three days.

“That means those fields can’t be used, that means students can’t practice, that means they can’t exercise, that means their mental health isn’t helped,” Blalock said.

He pointed to recent state championships that the PHS boys’ and girls’ lacrosse teams recently won.

When he played sports in high school, there were no lacrosse teams because there weren’t enough playing fields to support them, he said.

“Another thing that happens is geese eat grass. They poop on grass,” Blalock said. “Geese don’t eat artificial grass, so they don’t defecate on grass. .”

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He stressed the importance of giving students more “space outside to play”.

“This grass field provides many opportunities for all high school and community sports teams,” Blalock said.

A school board decision

Mayor Deaglan McEachern noted during the discussion that City Council could neither approve nor reject the bonding authorization.

He noted that it is up to the school board to decide what type of grass pitch and grass infill will be used at the secondary school.

City Attorney Robert Sullivan agreed, but Nathan Lunney, the school district’s business manager, said school officials plan to report to the council and school board on the filling they plan to use.

“Given all the conversations you’ve had and the community, we expected this to be an appropriate step,” he said.

Conard said school officials told him they would work with the city’s engineering consultant “to evaluate all suitable filler materials and provide that information to both the school board and the city council.”

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“I think we all learned a lot from the previous exercise on the synthetic turf,” she added.

McEachern said he supports the bonding authorization, but also wants school officials to incorporate “disposal of existing land as part of this procurement process.”

He also argued that artificial turf pitches provide more opportunities for students to play on it than grass pitches.

If officials had decided to replace the high school’s artificial turf field with a grass field, they should have had “a conversation about the sports and times that we’re taking away from our students,” McEachern said.

Councilwoman Kate Cook, who like Councilman Josh Denton voted against authorizing bail, said she did not feel comfortable backing it because the council had not had “this bigger conversation” on grass versus artificial turf pitches.

“How many sports can you play on a grass pitch? ” she asked. “We didn’t do that deep dive.”

Brady Kilroy, a senior at Rising Portsmouth High School, was one of many student athletes who petitioned the city council to stick with an artificial turf pitch.

Kilroy is a member of the varsity football and lacrosse teams.

“If there’s one thing I’m grateful for at PHS, it’s turf,” he told the council, adding that “turf is just a million times better than grass.”

Former city council member Esther Kennedy, who is a school administrator in another district, acknowledged that maintaining grass fields “takes a little more time and energy.”

“But with proper rotation, proper maintenance, these are great fields and safe fields,” she said.